Thursday, January 08, 2009

In Genesis: Getting to Work

God made Adam and put him to work and to rule. Thus in chapter 2 of Genesis,

15 The LORD God took the man [Adam] and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. . . . 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

God created Eve because "no suitable helper [for Adam] was found." Help him what? To do what God had created him to do, that is to work.

Is it missing the mark to say that popular culture, to the extent that it thinks about Adam and Eve in the Garden before the fall, pictures them as innocent playmates in a sort of divine park, running around having fun without their clothes on? And that's what we want to get back to, isn't it? That's the point of redemption, no?

I see something different in these texts. Man and wife are purposefully busy in the Garden. And what Adam is doing (that with which Eve is helping him) has divine purpose, as man has been created in God's image. Man is directed to take a formless mass of creatures (not formless to God, of course, but initially, surely, to Adam, Eve) and to name those creatures, that is, to observe them carefully, to catalog them, to understand their affinities and differences, perhaps their needs and wants, the ultimate end of which is to rule them as God rules.

In Genesis 1, just after God created "male and female."

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Man is like God in the sense of what God calls him to do, to work, that is to observe, to understand, to care for, and, finally, to rule Creation as God's fiduciary, his trustee, his steward.

What does this say to the popular idea that one works to acquire, and then to retire, and then no longer to work? Or that our relationship to other living creatures is to exploit them without limitation? Or that, as to Creation in general, we are responsible only to ourselves, that is, to our immediate self, that is, to whatever I think I need at this moment, and that Creation and everything in it is there to serve me.


robert austell said...

Hi Paul,

I saw this post on my reader and thought you might enjoy my recent sermon on work as worship, from Gn. 2. Also, saw that we might finally get to meet in Spartanburg March 6-9. Are you coming to that congregational renewal event for sure?

Macon said...


Work precedes the fall. The fall only introduces "toil", not work.

I think, though, that because it's so easy to equate work with toil, we equate work with the fall.

And so the notion of "retirement" is a bit off, biblically.

But it is true that our productive years grow and decline over the course of our days, so it seems to me there is wisdom in "making hay while the sun shines" so that one can support one's self as one's productive time ebbs.

Paul Stokes said...

Hi, Robert. I will listen to that sermon. Thanks. As to Spartanburg, Carol and I are mulling it over and not sure about going. But now that we know that you will be there, we are looking at it differently.

Macon, I'm not sure aging and "decline" let's us Boomers off the hook. The nature of our work changes, but our calls don't. What a blessing it would be to die at my desk, with several important calls to return, and all my timeslips in and my billing up to date, looking forward to the second long weekend of the month in Austin, having just gotten back from a visit to see my great-granddaughter graduate from UT.