Neil Armstrong was about to be the first man to walk on the moon, and it truly was a leap for mankind. The media coverage of the event was extensive, including several interviews with NASA employees. It is said that during one of these interviews, a journalist asked a NASA custodian what she was doing. Her response was, “I am putting a man on the moon!”
I have used this story when training and supervising student employees in higher education. I’ve repeated it time and time again, as it’s such an inspiring story! The perspective this employee had; the fact that she “got it”; her ability to see the big picture – it’s a mindset any supervisor would hope their employees would possess.
But it has often struck me: as much as I love the idea of this story, do I actually view my work in the way this custodian did? Do I carry out even the mundane tasks of my day with the bigger picture in mind? Do I even know what the bigger picture is? As Christians, I think the picture is actually much larger than we might initially suspect.
What exactly do I mean by that?
Perhaps you have noticed how the Bible begins. Quite literally, the Bible opens with God working, creating, forming (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” Genesis 1:1). He creates material things – land, sea, animals, plants, and, humanity he creates in his own image (Gen. 1,2). He gives humanity dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26) and even tasks Adam with naming all the animals (Gen. 2:15)! So, God himself works to create (and calls everything he created “good”), and then he commissions Adam and Eve to work in the Garden of Eden. In a yet-unfallen world, God intended creation-care (work) to be part of our purpose! Work was meant to be a fulfilling and beautiful part of our existence, one marked by stewardship resulting in fruitfulness.
But, as we all know, our human parents ate the fruit of the tree of which they had been forbidden to eat. The consequence was the curse found in Genesis 3, a part of which was that man’s work would be frustrated (“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it… Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you… By the sweat of your face you will eat bread…” Gen. 3:17-19). What was once something to look forward to with excitement has now become a struggle. Gee, thanks a lot, Adam and Eve. Now I know who to blame the next time I am NOT saying at the end of a vacation, “Whew. Glad that is over and I can get back to work now!”
There’s good news; the Story doesn’t end there. Yes, work is hard, but work can still be a fulfilling and beautiful part of our existence. In fact, it ought to be as Christians. We are, after all, in the work of acting as redemptive agents in our broken culture. We are living in the “here but not yet” reality of the Kingdom of God having broken in through Jesus Christ! We are participants in helping make the world right – returning it to what God intended, anticipating all the while the time when the new heavens and the new earth will be completed.
Revelation 21 describes, in exquisite detail, the new heavens and the new earth. Perfection has been restored, but not in the form of a garden. Instead, the New Jerusalem, a city, is described! Verse 24 says “the nations will walk by [the Lamb’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” Given the context of this passage, it is likely the “glory” verse 24 refers to are gifts that are the product of human culture. In other words, the new heavens and new earth will contain elements of our current work and culture – fully redeemed for God’s glory!
So, where am I going with all this? I believe that in order for us to “get the bigger picture” of our work here on earth, it is important to remind ourselves that work is not a result of the fall. Work existed in the Garden of Eden prior to Genesis 3, because God desired someone to “till the ground” (Gen. 2:5). Ingredient to living out the image of God is the cultivation of creation such that if flourishes; or in other words, good work! This means that when our work is drawn up into God’s larger purposes as revealed in Scripture, it is redeemed and shot through with meaning, dignity, and thereby, it becomes sacred. No matter what vocation we find ourselves practicing, our work can and should be done in such a way as to restore all of creation and culture to its rightful state. And that, my friends, is exciting work! Imagine what it might look like to create policies, represent a client in court, pursue urban planning, raise a child, perform surgery, or manage a non-profit in such a way that God’s intention for humanity and earth is brought nearer to us. If we can, through God’s grace, begin to view all our work this way, we will surely “get the bigger picture” of why our work matters. Indeed, doing our work well in order to accomplish the greatest goals of our companies is work well-done. But realizing we are ultimately doing our work well to accomplish the greatest goals of our Lord is staggering! To think that God would use me to help redeem his creation in anticipation of the New Jerusalem – now that is motivation to do my work well.
Sources: http://hireimaging.com/articles/career-tips/work-janitor-lessons-on-why-yours-matters; https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/genesis-1-11-and-work/; https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/revelation/.