Is Work really cursed?
17 To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.’
This is part four of seven articles dealing with some false stories about work which we might hear about, or even unconsciously absorb; as well as the better story for work that we read in the Bible, and is commended through the Gospel.
I think this false story is the default assumption behind many people’s low view of work; and where many Christians begin with their theology of work.
The danger of beginning with this is as your concept of work, is that you think work has been cursed from the beginning of time; it becomes a symbol of the fall; and it becomes something we would not be doing in heaven.
In the creation stories of many religions, the gods get tired of working, so they create humans to do all the work. Humanity slaves at work to appease the gods. For many in the world, even today, this explains why work is often hard, risky and brings little joy. You just have to think of synonyms for work: labour, slog, grind, hard yakka, toil… None of those words present work in a positive light.
Bob Black, an American anarchist and author, sums up this attitude in his essay, The Abolition of Work:
No one should ever work. Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
However, even in the most difficult work, there can be a sense of accomplishment when work is done, or joy in relationships with work colleagues.
The reading from Genesis tells a better story for our work. A careful reading helps us realise that work itself is not cursed, but the ground is, and therefore the process of working becomes more difficult: we will need to work hard, and there will be thorns and thistles impacting on our productivity.
It is true that our work is impacted by separation from God, as well as broken relationships with each other in the workplace and with creation, the context and stuff from which we work. However, work existed before the Fall, and continues to be a good gift from God, tainted by sin.
We understand that the difficulty with work stems from a broken relationship with God, rather than from work itself.
Think it through
How much do you see this false story lived out around you? Do you sometimes live out that false story in your own life?
What difference does it make knowing that work itself is not cursed or a curse? Where do you see evidence that work can be seen as a good gift from God?
Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the struggles of work:
It can be tiring
It can be boring
It can be dangerous
It can be depressing
We can experience conflict in the workplace
We can feel like our work does not accomplish anything of significance.
Help us to see the good of the gift of work.
Help us to have glimpses of joy in the work itself, or in relationships with colleagues.
Help us to see the possibilities of our work with fresh eyes, through your eyes.
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