Creation, Contentment, and Work: Chapter 2

Creation, Contentment, and Work: Chapter 2 February 8, 2012

In yesterday’s post, I began thinking about contentment in light of the creation narratives in the Bible. Genesis 1 reveals that human beings were created by God in God’s own image. Thus, we are intrinsically to be involved in the creation, exercising the abilities God has given us in his world. This is made explicit when, after creating human beings, God tells them to be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion. True contentment will come when we fulfill this divine vocation.

I realize that what I’ve just said will upset some Christians who say things like: “I am completely fulfilled through my relationship with Christ” or “Jesus is all I need.” I’m suggesting that you won’t be completely fulfilled simply by being in relationship with Christ, however wonderful and essential this may be. Moreover, I’m saying that Jesus is not all you need, if by this you mean that you would be perfectly happy just to sit and pray and worship for the rest of eternity. On the contrary, Genesis reveals that we were created in God’s image to work in God’s world as co-creators (in a lesser fashion), fruit-bearers, and those who exercise authority over creation.

My son, when he was young, doing his "work" in the garden (literally, gleaning beans from a field).

This picture of human life is confirmed in the second chapter of Genesis. Hence, the title of this blog post: “Creation, Contentment, and Work: Chapter 2.” In this chapter, God created the man and put him in the garden (Gen 2:7-9). God did this so that the man might “till” and “keep” the garden (2:15). This is a different perspective on the basic command of Genesis 1 to be fruitful and have dominion. The man was created to work in God’s good creation.

If you were to stop right there and ask: How can the man honor God? You’d answer something like: By doing what God created him to do, namely, work. At this point, there is no hint that the man might also stop working for a while in order to pray or praise God. That comes later. But nothing so far in the creation story suggests that man’s key function in life is worship as we usually define it. Nor would you be inclined to believe that contentment comes purely through the man’s relationship with God. Work is central to human worship and human happiness.

What comes next in Genesis 2 is a shocker. God says: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18). Wait just a minute! God says it’s not good for the man to be alone. But doesn’t the man have God? And, given that the man hasn’t sinned, he is able to have intimate, unfettered relationship with the living God? Isn’t that enough? No, apparently not, as far as God is concerned. The man was not created simply or even primarily for one-on-one relationship with God. Rather, then man needed a unique partner to join him so that he might fulfill his calling to work in the world. Thus, a few verses later, God created a woman to be the man’s partner.

Genesis 2 does not speak specifically of contentment. But it strongly suggests that we will only be content as human beings when we fulfill our purpose (to work) and do so in relationship with other human beings. So, in light of this passage, it would not be theologically corrected to sing “All I need is Jesus” or “You’re all I need.” In fact, I need to be the person God created me to be. I need to do what God has created (and redeemed) me to do. I can only do this in and through God, to be sure. And simply doing things apart from God, even very good things, will not bring full contentment. But contentment comes when I am in relationship with God, doing all things through Christ who empowers me (Phil 4:13).

“Hold on here,” you may be thinking. “You’re a Presbyterian pastor. You should affirm, among other things, the classic answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which reads: ‘What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.’ Yet you’re saying that human beings have another chief end, maybe a more essential chief end, that is, to work. How can you say this?” I’ll try to explain myself more thoroughly in my next post.

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  • Joe Peebles

    Hi Mark,
    I find this thought-provoking and helpful.  It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for a while, specifically as it relates to someone who finds himself in a job he finds unfulfilling.  Not that I think work as you’re describing it here is restricted to what I do weekdays between 8 and 5, but it’s still the largest chunk of what I do.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so I’ll give you a brief background: after college I just found the first decent paying job I could, and over several years I’ve worked myself into a quasi-IT position.  Now that my wife – who used to work outside the home – stays home with our young son, my options for moving around are limited.  I increasingly try to offset my dull-ish job with creativity in my (limited) spare time (song-writing), which is much closer to the kind of creative work I find fulfilling.

    So it often feels like a waiting game, hoping for a time when the Lord provides a better match between what I find fulfilling and employment that pays enough to support our family based on the marketable skills I have.  And I don’t mind some waiting.  But it’s not always clear how passive or active (i.e. risky) I should be in pursuing the type of creative work that, as best I understand it, most closely reflects God’s intention for creative, redemptive work.

    Thanks again for the thoughts.

  • Anonymous

     Hi Mark,
     It is good to consider what we actually read in the Bible, rather than try to fit what it says into some shallow doctrine, like God’s Sabbath has been moved to the day of the sun god. One of the things that jump out at me from Genesis, is God’s 1st gift to man: 1:29 Every herb bearing seed, upon the face of all the earth. Now who other than Satan would:
    #Claim ownership of (Devil’s weed)
    #Tax, regulate, to “make us pay” for,
    #Or make criminal, and declare a war on, God’s 1st gift to man?
     I think You make valid points about work, and this is a touchy subject. I have actually been told that I am “working” by keeping God’s Sabbath, by resting! Why? Because we have a demented doctrine that obedience to God is work, and You are saved by grace, but You forsake that grace by working. Jesus said “behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his WORK shall be.” Could the despicable doctrine be to rob us of our reward?

  • Awesome
    stuff! A couple of thoughts came to mind.


    I read
    recently that most of us failed to appreciate what the phrase “enjoy him
    forever” actually meant when it was written. The word “enjoy” has morphed in
    its meaning since the Divines crafted this phrase. We understand it to mean an
    emotional uplift we get from being with God. Yet, we use words like “en-courage,”
    “en-trust” or “en-rage” to mean something we deposit in another person. That
    was what was meant by “en-joy.” We deposit joy into God. How do we best do
    that? By being whom God intended us to be.


    Second, I
    wonder if you are aware of the work John Walton has done on the early chapters
    of Genesis, particularly in books like, “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient
    Cosmology and the Origins Debate.” He makes the case that Genesis Chapter One
    is similar in genre to other Ancient Near East stories, identifying the
    function of things (not their origins) and who it is that directs their
    functions. Unlike the other stories where humans are made to serve the
    capricious whims of the Gods, humans are God’s primary functionaries serving as
    vice-regents over creation. At the end of the creation story God rests … takes
    up residence in his temple … just as with other Ancient Near East stories.


    In keeping
    with Walton’s perspective, it is interesting that the Hebrew for “toil it and
    keep it” in Genesis 2:15, concerning Eden, is the same language used in Numbers
    3:8, where the work of the Levites in the temple is described. There is
    something holy and sacred about our daily tasks as we serve as functionaries in
    God’s temple.

  • Sorry for the strange formatting. Not sure what was up with that.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the closer we are to the truth of Scripture, the better of we will be.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, I’m aware of Walton’s insights. They are right on.

  • Anonymous

    Not to worry.

  • Anonymous

    Joe: Thanks for your comment. It’s hard to offer responsible counsel since I don’t know you very well. I would encouraged you to find a context of Christian community that will help you discern God’s will for your professional future. In addition, I wonder how you might bring meaning to your work, since it is not intrinsically meaningful (at least not very much).

  • Mark,

    Looking forward to more here on work and contentment, but you seem to have been interrupted by Ash Wednesday thoughts.  There is far more to be explored, I would hope….

    How do we wade through the waters of a job we dislike?  Where is contentment here?
    What if we feel like we have been in the wrong vocation for a decade or more, and God is seemingly not listening to our prayers?
    What does “good work” look like?  Can an otherwise mundane job give God glory, and how does this work?
    To those unto much has been entrusted (in terms of intellect, finances, leadership abilities), how do we use these gifts wisely, and with humility?
    When does work “end”, is retirement really the goal of the modern working person, or does work last a lifetime?

    Appreciate your thoughts, always.

  • Anonymous

    Great questions. Thanks, Steve.