Genesis 1:26 – 3:23
“Blessed and Cursed”
April 19, 2015 - Third Sunday of Easter
Worked is blessed and
cursed, cursed and blessed. There are lots of jokes about the “oldest
profession,” but from Scripture’s point of view, the first work given to human
beings was gardening or farming. And if you’ve worked on a farm or even tried
to grow a garden, then you know that work is blessed and rewarding as well as
cursed and frustrating.
There is a kind of
God-given instinct in all of us to carry out that first creation “mandate,”
there in Genesis 1:26, 28 and 29, a human drive to have dominion over the earth,
to have it serve and feed us. Dominion “over the fish of the sea” comes first,
but I’m not sure all the times I’ve been skunked on a fishing trip counts as
much dominion. Seriously, the dominion God gave us is not control. It’s loving
Verses 26 and 27 are
the reason for dominion. We are created in the image of God. God worked for six
days to create our world. He then made beings in His own image to join Him in
caring for that world. God has the caring dominion of the Creator, the one who
made it all. He gave us the caretaking sub-dominion for what He made.
The first and basic
human occupation is to partner with God to care for what He made. One aspect of
that care in partnership with God will be to put creation to good use to feed
and provide for ourselves and others. But that’s not the whole of our dominion
over creation and not the whole of human work as God first intended it.
Unlike what some
Christians think or what secular folks think all Christians think, dominion
over the earth is no excuse to mine and log and frack and genetically
manipulate our world until we’ve sucked it dry and lifeless, all for building
homes or stocking grocery stores. It’s no excuse for the fact you don’t want to
eat the fish out of Cottage Grove Reservoir because of mercury from mining done
decades ago. It’s no excuse for treating animals like food production machines.
It’s no excuse for thinking we can take what we want from the world and leave
future generations to worry about the consequences.
We also realize from
Genesis and the rest of Scripture that work is not all that God gave us to do. The
beginning of chapter 2 is the first indication of a gift which runs through all
of Scripture, rest. God worked, then God rested in Genesis 2:2. If our
work is to be at all a genuine partnership with God’s work, then it will lead
Read on through
Scripture, and you find that the most vital human experiences happen when we
are resting rather than working. Jesus told a little parable about a farmer
planting seed in Mark 4. The plants grow whether the planter is asleep or
awake. And the kingdom of God is like that. We do not work for our salvation.
It’s a gift of God.
Talking about Christian
mission, Paul echoed Jesus’ parable in I Corinthians 3:7. “So neither the one
who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the
growth.” We have a work, taking care of creation, sharing the Gospel. But God
is always the greater partner. God began and God completes our work. Work
depends on the grace of God, on receiving His good gifts. To teach us that, God
Himself took a day off, and gave us a day of rest from the very beginning.
The Bible’s first
actual description of human work, apart from that general gift of dominion over
the rest of creation, is not about useful, productive work at all. It’s not
hard labor or environmental exploitation or the hunter-gatherer activity of primeval
proto-humans. The first specific work given to Adam in chapter 2 verse 15 was
to tend and look after a garden. And if we just back up to verses 8 and 9, then
verses 10 to 11, we see that it’s a garden which God both planted and watered.
God did all the hard work.
Verse 15 tells us God
put the man there in the garden “to till it and keep it.” Other translations
say, “to work it and keep it.” But God planted the garden, so “tilling” or
“working” did not mean backbreaking hard labor of plowing new ground or digging
holes for trees in solid clay like here in the Willamette Valley. It’s hard to
say what work Adam did in the garden of Eden, but God did the really difficult
work. Adam was there to look after things rather than break new ground.
A second part to human
work appears in the story of Eve in verses 18 to 25 of chapter 2. We usually
focus on Adam and his rib and the human relationship God created. But we also
catch a glimpse of another sort of human activity which God gave to us. In
verse 19, God presented all the land animals and birds to the man “to see what
he would call them,” and in verse 20 Adam gave names to every one of them.
The second part of the
blessing of work is again not hard labor, but the intellectual joy of giving
names to all the creatures God made. And that delightful work of naming leads
to God’s gift of one last being for the man to name, the one who will be an
equal and true partner. So in verse 23 the “Man” calls this new person “Woman”
because she is his own flesh and bone, like him in a way that no other creature
on earth is like him.
We still continue that
happy task of naming the world and naming each other. Ask any parent who has
spent time finding the perfect names for a new baby or any scientist who has
found and named a new species of mollusk or a new subatomic particle. A mother
or a scientist worked hard to get to the point where a name was needed, but the
naming itself is pure pleasure, the delight and fun of picking out a name which
distinguishes that little person or that new discovery from every other being
Work as first given to
us, as God first created it, was meant to be a joy, a blessing, to bring us
happiness. The first human beings were meant to enjoy the garden and especially
enjoy the One who planted it. The first human beings were to rejoice in the
mental activity of identifying, classifying, and naming all the wonderful
diversity of our world’s biosphere and celebrating the Creator of it all.
The first question of
the Westminster Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, what
is our purpose? The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy
him forever.” Augustine said God is what we truly want, what we most desire,
that “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Thomas Aquinas took
Aristotle’s insight that human beings always aim to be happy and added the
Christian realization that, like Augustine said, only God can make us truly
happy. Therefore our aim in life, our best and most satisfying human “work” is
to celebrate and enjoy God.
In Genesis 3 sin ruined
the blessing of work as a way to glorify and enjoy God in and through His
creation. The serpent tempted Eve telling her in verse 5 that she and Adam
could be like God, that they could provide their own happiness. The devil
wanted to deceive us and sway us away from our true purpose, away from our true
joy which can only be found by enjoying creation as a gift from its Creator.
There is way too much
to say about all three of these chapters and especially about the “fall of
humanity,” here in chapter 3. But we are focusing on what the beginning of
Scripture tells us about work. So let’s jump down to the curses placed on human
beings starting in verse 16.
One result of sin is a
curse on human biology, particularly on childbearing, making it more difficult and
painful than it ought to be. I’m way out of my depth saying anything about
something I’ve only experienced by observation, but I think it’s safe to say
that almost any woman wonders why it has to be so hard. It’s a curse on what
was meant to be blessed and happy work for women. What was meant to be all joy
now gets called “labor,” work as hard and dangerous as any on earth.
In verses 17 to 19 man’s
first happy work of tilling and looking after a garden becomes a constant
battle with nature, with the creation which God originally made good. Anyone
who’s weeded a garden or tried to protect a crop from weather and bugs and
critters and invasive plants knows how real that curse is. Plant that lovely
row of broccoli seedlings, turn around, and verse 18 comes true, “thorns and
thistles it shall bring forth for you.”
The blessing of work,
whether the domestic tasks of raising children, or all the various occupations
we have outside our homes, is also curse, as a result of sin. Work was meant to
be a way for us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but most of the time for
most people in the world, it’s simply a hard, painful way to survive, until
like verse 19 says, we return to the dust from which we were taken.
That curse on work is
not just God being mean. It’s not revenge by a spiteful, jealous deity who
doesn’t like being disobeyed. God let the work be cursed so we would turn back
to true happiness, turn back to Him. If we could find complete joy and fulfillment
by working hard, we might never look for something better, something more
God still worked on
our behalf after the fall. In verse 21 God made clothes out of animal skins for
Adam and Eve. Some have seen in that a sign of the shedding of blood in animal
sacrifices and Jesus’ final sacrifice. Maybe, but at the least it is a sign
that what we need does not and cannot all come from our own efforts. As we say
in our Communion service here, “We stand in constant need of his mercy and
We respond to the
cursedness of our work in different ways. We try to escape it. That’s the
foolish dream exploited by folks who want to sell us lottery tickets. It’s a
total contradiction. They’re working hard to get us to believe that with just a
little bit of luck we won’t need to work at all. It’s a similar story for Ponzi
scheme investment “opportunities,” e-mail work-at-home offers, and every
get-rich-quick book offered on Amazon. They’re all trying to tell us that we
don’t really need to work or that work can be easy.
The Bible says we need
to work, that it’s part of God’s plan for us, not just here in Genesis but
throughout. We studied Proverbs together last year, heard how many times that
book tells us to be diligent, not lazy. II Thessalonians 3:10 and 11 puts it more bluntly about folks in that church who thought the could live “in idleness,
mere busybodies, not doing any work.” Paul said, “Anyone unwilling to work
should not eat.” God gave us work.
You might think to get
out of the curse of work by finding an occupation you enjoy. That’s the lie
being sold today through our current educational system. Everyone can learn and
prepare for a meaningful, pleasant, satisfying lifetime career. As I indicated
last week, that’s as much a pipe dream as not working for most of the world and
for most of us. And even those of you who landed in the career you wanted
probably realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t as pleasant or as easy as you
thought it would be.
Christian work won’t satisfy you completely and make you perfectly happy, work
like Jesus gave us in our Gospel reading from Luke 24, to take the good news to the world, to be witnesses of the fact He rose from the dead and offers
forgiveness for our sins and peace with God. Even that holy, sweet Gospel work
is often hard, painful, frustrating and disappointing.
We can’t get out of
the curse of work by not doing it or by finding the right job. The only way work
can be the blessing God meant it to be is to find hope and happiness somewhere
else than in work. God meant that from the beginning. Even when work was all
good, all blessed, there was a day of rest, a day to remember that what we
truly need does not come from our own efforts, but from the gracious and
generous hand of God.
That’s the message
Jesus gave the Apostles. There is forgiveness and healing of the curse in Him.
That’s the word we heard in our reading from I John 3, that our first identity is not as workers, but as children of God, and that our hope is not in what we
do or what we make, but our hope is in Him and what He will make of us.
Which all is why we
are here this morning. We’ve left work behind to do useless and unproductive
things like singing and praying and listening to the Bible read. Like Josef
Pieper so brilliantly teaches, our rest on the Sabbath day has no purpose. God
did not command a day of rest so we could do better work. He does not call us
to come together and sing His praises and listen to His word because it will
make us more productive. No, God asks us to rest and worship Him because that just is our purpose, what we were meant to do. Really good work is labor and
service which becomes worship. We’ll have more to say about that next week.
Please don’t let any
misguided Christian try to tell you worship will help you be a better worker or
that memorizing Scripture will raise your grades at school or that being in
church will save your marriage or any other well-meaning good-sounding way of
saying that glorifying and enjoying God has any other purpose than glorifying
and enjoying God.
Instead of how you
might escape work, think this week of how Jesus can redeem work, and how you
might help someone else let Jesus redeem their work. We are waiting, as John
said, to be something we don’t know yet, to be like Jesus when we see Him as He
really is. That’s what we work toward, seeing Jesus, both now and then, because
that’s when we can do what we were meant to do, glorify and enjoy Him perfectly
Until then, we see
Jesus partially, in smaller ways, in work that’s done with love for God and for
what He’s made, including each other. Ray is an older gentleman from Churchill
Estates. He’s a Christian and his wife is in memory care there. He takes his
walker and strolls through our church yard two or three times a day sometimes
with his wife, sometimes alone. Ray is retired. He does not work anymore. If
work is our purpose in life, then Ray, and lots of other folks like him, have
none, have no purpose.
Friday I saw Ray out
by our new bench along the west walk. Stan put it in just before Easter and
even did a little planting around it, grass seed and some yellow tulips and a
couple of other plants. He did great work, but Stan told me, “Well the plants
will look nice for a couple weeks before they die from lack of water.”
When I saw him Ray
there, he was bending over, leaning on his walker, gently pouring water from a
bottle on those plants to keep them from drying out in the bright warm weather
we’ve had the last few days. I could tell it took a lot of effort for him. But
he had a purpose right then, adding what he could to Stan’s work. And he had
that oldest of occupations, gardening, adding what he could to God’s work.
Ray is all of us in
relation to God. God created us and our world. God saved us and our world in
Jesus Christ. Our purpose is what it’s always been, to find that original
blessing God gave us in work, by adding what we can to what God has done. By
faith in Jesus you can have that gift again, meaning and purpose through
worshipping Him. And you will be able to worship in your work, no matter what it
is. May God bless your work in Jesus.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj