(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out.)
I stumbled on to this cute video of playful baby pandas a couple of weeks ago. I laughed so hard! I pulled it up again last week to show my wife, who had just described to me a typical challenging day dealing with preschoolers at her place of employment as a teacher’s assistant-lover of children-surrogate grandmother-coach-teacher-mentor. (Admittedly, I’ve modified her official job title a bit.)
At first, I observed that this illustrates the idea of “thorns and thistles” for this frazzled zookeeper, as described in Gen. 3:17-19, which I wrote about in a previous article. In her case, these playful cubs made her job unnecessarily more difficult than it needed to be. There was a lot of pain, frustration, and having to do the same things over and over with little results to show for it. That sounds much like my job sometimes, too. How about you?
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes shares a similar perspective when he wrote, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:2-3) He adds in the next chapter, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation.” (Eccl. 2:22-23)
Thinking about this further, it occurred to me that this video is also a beautiful illustration of a worker who is fulfilling the creation or cultural mandate found in Gen. 1:28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” It was easy to see this worker working very hard to subdue the fallen leaves and bring those young preschooler pandas under her dominion.
By way of reminder, this charge given directly to Adam is clearly applicable to us. It was given in the context of God creating the first man and woman in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), which is stated no less than three times. In the beginning, God created; therefore, work in itself is intrinsically of value. God did two things: He made something from nothing and brought order out of chaos.
The command to “fill the earth and subdue it” implies that even though what God made was good, it was incomplete. People were designed to work, and were charged to be God’s co-workers to continue the work of creation. God’s charge to Adam and to us as well is basically to work hard with all the resources in the earth and the wisdom from above in order to expand and complete the creation that He made to sustain man and for His glory.
Certainly, we cannot create something out of nothing. But, we can improve on what is already here. We can also bring order out of chaos, whatever our job is. When we do, we imitate God, fulfilling one of the purposes of work. When we bring order to our world, we also expand God’s kingdom little by little. We meet the needs of our neighbors (whom God wants to bless through us). Ultimately, we bring glory to God as we work faithfully, with integrity, and according to biblical principles.
Timothy Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, had this to say about the creation mandate:
We are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil . . . This pattern is found in all kinds of work. Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology to harness the forces of electricity, when we take an unformed, naïve human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art – we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing.
Wow! What a powerful statement of how we cultivate the land today.
I bring order out of chaos every single day at work. How about you? Do you sense God’s presence at work when you do? I think we should find it refreshing when God allows us the opportunity to expand His Kingdom of peace, hope, and love at our workplaces.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.