The world we live in is a land of sweat and toil. Indeed, right from the start of the Scriptures, right after the Fall, God says that our life here will be a bit of a grind (By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread!).
This is often seen as an indication that mankind’s life before the Fall would have been one of just loafing around (like in a shady glen, a sleeping tiger for a pillow, nibbling on pomegranates…).
But this isn’t the case. Genesis describes man’s life before the Fall as pretty active too. God’s instructions in 1:28 are basically, Have babies! Take charge of the world! Care for all the crazy creatures I just made! There’s a sense of joyful industry here, the kind of excitement that Home Depot tries to instill in proud homeowners with its slogan, Let’s do this!
So, with or without the Fall, God had always invited man to participate in the great work which he began in Creation, and which will be complete in the last day. Work is not a punishment. The job got a little harder after the Fall. But either way, our time here on earth was always going to be one of labor, where we join God in bringing his creation to perfection.
The amazing thing is, God didn’t have to do it this way. In fact, it would have been a lot more efficient for him not to do it this way.
That he has invited our help in the job is kind of like when a parent invites a child to help out with some task. In these instances, it’s often not for the sake of getting the job done more quickly. I can recall my sister giving her four-year-old son Micah the responsibility of flipping the pancakes she was frying on the griddle. She could easily have done it herself, and by giving the task to her son, she was risking the pancakes being cooked a little beyond or under perfection, not to mention simply being flipped onto the floor.
But efficiency wasn’t the point. The point was to invite Micah into her life of wondrous responsibility. He knew he had been given a critical duty. Sure, he could have been left to his own devices, having a relaxing morning teasing his little sister. But instead, he had been invited to share in a Big Person’s Job. And by virtue of this task, Micah was himself ennobled, raised to a joy that was higher than whatever else he would have been doing. And this joy was visible on his face.
God has done something similar with us. And as it happens, we have quite often flipped the pancake straight onto the floor, and sometimes just for the heck of it.
But by inviting us to help in his Big Person’s Job, he has raised us up, giving us the opportunity to share in his life as caretaker of the Universe.
So, this world may indeed be a place of sweat and toil. But the opportunity to sweat and toil is itself a gift. It is a gift that we can say with Jesus, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17).
Image: Making Pancakes