Mark DeVine is associate professor of history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School.

Work Lost, Work Redeemed

by Mark DeVine

The first thing God did was work. And he derived satisfaction from his work, calling it “good” and “very good.” The first command issued to his most special creature was essentially “work.” Man too would derive nothing but pleasure and satisfaction from his work: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” This work promised nothing but pleasure and satisfaction—keeping the Garden, naming the other creatures, enjoying all the trees but one.

A delicate and potentially dangerous balance between divinely determined likeness and difference between Creator and creature was discernible from the beginning. God works in creation and so man, created in his image, also works. God is lord of his creation, but man, uniquely privileged and equipped to reflect his Creator, “has dominion” over the lower forms of the created realm.

The likeness with God meant for man is not open-ended but targeted and circumscribed. God is THE WORKER par excellence; man is himself a work of God—the crown of that work, yes, but still a work. God creates from nothing, man rules and keeps and exercises dominion over what God has made and what still belongs to God just as he belongs to God. God's activity is primal and sustaining; man’s is receptive, responsive and grateful. God knows all, including good and evil. Man knows only good and ought to be satisfied with that good.

The little word “like” signifies with a certain precision and eloquence the very real similarity within permanent and profound difference that characterizes the actual relationship between Creator and creature. There can be no denying the unique place of humanity among all God’s creatures; nor that what is special here involves astounding realities and possibilities of closeness and even unity with God reserved exclusively for humankind. Yet clear indicators of unbridgeable distinction and separation between God and human beings abound.

Precisely this, the desire to “be like God”, followed by the attempt to reach out and literally bite into prohibited regions of God-likeness destroyed the primal harmony with God into which our first parents were set. Oh the irony! “God knows that when you eat [this forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” The serpent knew what he was about. Note well the target of the Lord’s (sarcastic?) reprimand as he strolled through the Garden, post-transgression. Nothing about what a delight the fruit brought to their eyes. “Good for food”? No mention of that either. Only this—“Behold the man has become like one of us . . .” with the implied question “How’s that working for you?” Yes, the serpent knew his work.

That abortive bite at God-likeness precipitated serious but loving discipline and included man’s work in its purview. The curse administered to this most special creature included something like this: “I’m now about to muck up your work.” The place where you should have only derived fruit, pleasure and satisfaction reflecting God’s own satisfaction in his work, shall yield fruit of mixed sort. You shall yet “eat” from your work but now only though “painful labor”. You shall lay hold of good food but only painstakingly grasped in the midst of thorns and thistles.

Man’s work is meant to yield a reward. Where the good life for which we were created prevails, we enjoy the fruit of our labor. But we enjoy it always as the grateful obedient children of a wise and loving creator and provider, always as those who receive that fruit as also and ultimately from his hand. Never as those would-be usurpers of the place reserved exclusively for the Creator. Never as those who, rather than receive their life itself according to truth, as a gift from his hand, attempt to take their lives into their own hands, and thus “be like God.” One of the first and most fundamental casualties of such transgression is the loss of the enjoyment of both our work and the fruit it yields—loss of an essential dimension of the divinely intended human flourishing imago Dei (in the image of God).

The redeemed life secured and offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ promises restoration of more than the status quo ante but not less. Our work still belongs to the good life given and promised by our Lord. Our work is destined to serve its original and eternal role as a permanent dimension of life lived in the image of God. Thus the repeated promises throughout the Bible to once again prosper the “work of [our] hands.” So ought and may we embrace the command-embedded promises the apostle so clearly proclaimed: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything, do everything in the name of Jesus Christ” and “Whatever you do, do it with all your might, as unto the Lord, not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord—you serve the Lord Christ.

Posted by Betsy Childs at 9:08 AM
Share |