In preparing some small group discussion notes for my church this weekend I was struck by the contrast between Genesis 2:15 and Genesis 3:17.
Genesis 2:15 says this: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (NIV) Note that this is taking place in the Garden of Eden, before the ‘apple incident’, when man and God were still cool. Also note that God put man in the Garden to work; that’s an important point because it means that even in the Garden people had to punch a clock. The word the NIV translates as “work” here is translated in the NASB as “cultivate”; one of the translations of the original Hebrew word is, “to work for another, serve another by labour.” The general sense of the Hebrew is to work for, or serve, God. So in the Garden, man was serving God by working His land.
Now fast-forward to Genesis 3:17 (this is after Adam & Eve eat the fruit of the forbidden tree) when God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (NIV) Just one chapter ago God put man in the Garden to work, and that was the ideal situation we all wish we’d been born into. Now all of a sudden, after sinning against God, Adam isn’t just going to work, but he’s going to toil. The Hebrew word that the NIV translates as “toil” also translates as pain, labor, hardship, and sorrow.
After Genesis 3 God is no longer present to humanity in a bodily way and humanity loses (for the moment) its intimate relationship with the Creator. Man is now toiling on his own to feed himself rather than working for God in His Garden.
I’ll bet you can see where I’m going with this…We can either let God be in control and we can choose to serve Him, or we can go it alone. Even non-Christians understand this principle and benefit from it. My Dad commented a few weeks ago that there is a ‘flow’ to life, that life goes much easier when you ‘go with the flow’. I wonder if perhaps the ‘flow’ that my Dad senses is God’s will moving in the world…
Life will always be work; there is no free lunch. If you think God’s going to do all the heavy lifting in your life and pamper you like you are at a day spa, you are kidding yourself. But work, when coupled with the notion of serving God through our labor, can be enormously rewarding. And serving God doesn’t necessarily mean going on a mission trip or teaching a Sunday School class; in fact, most of the time I don’t think it means anything like that at all. I think serving God with our labor, working for God, means doing what He created us for. It means finding our own groove, being congruent with ourselves and who we were created to be. Toiling on our own for our own purposes will only ever be hard, disappointing, unrewarding, and ultimately futile.