1: “The Bible begins talking about work as soon as it begins talking about anything—that is how important and basic it is,” writes Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Genesis 2: 1-3
“The author of the book of Genesis describes God’s creation of the world as work,” Tim writes. “In fact, he depicts the magnificent project of cosmos invention within a regular workweek of seven days. And then he shows us human beings working in paradise. This view of work—connected with divine, orderly creation and human purpose—is distinct among the great faiths and belief systems of the world.”
This depiction of the creation of the world is strikingly different from how work is portrayed in other belief systems.
One example? The ancient Greeks. Their “account of creation includes the idea of successive ‘ages of mankind’ beginning with a golden age. During this age human beings and gods lived on the earth together in harmony,” Tim writes. “This sounds at first vaguely like the story of the garden of Eden, but one dissimilarity is very telling. The poet Hesiod tells us that neither humans nor gods in the golden age had to do any work. In that original paradise the earth simply provided food in abundance.”
Contrast this idea with the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. God is described at “work,” using the Hebrew mlkh, the word for common human work.
“In the beginning, then, God worked,” Tim notes. “Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration.”
Not only that. God is delighted by the work he has done: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good,” the book of Genesis reads. “The heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” (Genesis 1:31; 2:1).
When God finished, he “stands back, takes in ‘all that he has made,’ and says, in effect, ‘That’s good!'” Tim writes. “Like all good and satisfying work, the worker sees himself in it.”
These passages provide insight into the essence of God. “The harmony and perfection of the completed heavens and earth express more adequately the character of their creator than any of the separate components can,” notes G.J. Wenham in Word Biblical Commentary.
2: In the second chapter of Genesis, God not only works to create but also to care for his creation.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis Chapter 2:15
“God creates human beings and then works for them as their Provider. He forms a man (Genesis 2:7), plants a garden for him and waters it (Genesis 2:6, 8), and fashions a wife for him (Genesis 2:21–22),” Tim writes.
“The rest of the Bible tells us that God continues this work as Provider,” Tim notes, “caring for the world by watering and cultivating the ground (Psalm 104:10–22), giving food to all he has made, giving help to all who suffer, and caring for the needs of every living thing (Psalm 145:14–16).”
3: Lastly, we see God not only working but creating man and woman to carry forward this work.
“In Genesis chapter 1, verse 28 he tells human beings to ‘fill the earth and subdue it,'” Tim notes. “The word ‘subdue’ indicates that, though all God had made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor.”
God places human beings in the garden to “work it and keep it.” Genesis chapter 2, verse 15.
“The implication is that, while God works for us as our Provider, we also work for him,” Tim suggests.
“Indeed, he works through us. Psalm 127, verse 1—’ Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.’—indicates that God is building the house (providing for us) through the builders,” Tim writes. “As Martin Luther argued, Psalm 145 says that God feeds every living thing, meaning he is feeding us through the labor of farmers and others.”
An essential part of God’s plan for us is work. “It is perfectly clear that God’s good plan always included human beings working, or, more specifically, living in the constant cycle of work and rest,” writes Ben Witherington in Work: A Kingdom Perspective of Labor.
Once again, there is a sharp contrast between this view and other religions and cultures. “Work did not come in after a golden age of leisure,” Tim writes. “It was part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we were made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, as does the Son of God, who said, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working’ (John 5:17).”
Reflection: What are the implications for me of how work is depicted in Genesis?
Action: Discuss with a colleague or friend.