Life is tough. I don’t have to tell most readers that. However, whether we search online, in the spoken word of radio or TV, or at our local bookstore, it’s not too difficult to find words of hope, encouragement, and strength to get through the challenging times. I appreciate those who write on these subjects, having needed my share (and maybe a bit more than my share) of positive reminders. However, while it is good to comfort each other (see 1 Thessalonians 4:18), it is also helpful to periodically remember why life involves so much pain and toil.
First off, when God created humankind, work was part of the plan:
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15 NASB
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that most of us associate work with difficulty, challenges, and sometimes frustration. I’ve had those days (and weeks), myself. However, I think that there are activities that each of us enjoy doing, and – if we didn’t need the money – would do for free. Maybe you like to bake, or grow vegetables, or build things. Maybe you are artistic, or like to solve problems, or design new processes and machines. Any of these could be considered work, and the challenges of each in a fallen world can turn them into something unpleasant. Still, meaningful work – unencumbered by frustrations, corruption, and sin – is a very good thing. One might even consider it enjoyable (I know that I do…sometimes).
But if work was meant to be a good thing, why is it so difficult? Why are people forced to labor in hardship, suffering, and un-motivating circumstances, just to make a living? The following passage from the next chapter of Genesis starts to get at the root cause of this:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:17-19 NASB
This is the curse placed upon Adam for his sin – disobeying the only command that God had given him1. In my own words, this world is not currently what God wanted for us…because we broke it. Everything that is not right in this world is our (i.e., humankind’s) fault: Difficulty in growing, building, or maintaining things (or, as my Thermodynamics professor would call it, entropy) comes from the curse / punishment that we earned by sinning. Difficulties in working with other people come from the fact that we are sinful, prideful, selfish human beings (see James 4:1). Pollution, poisons, and many illnesses stem from the manufacturing and consumption of conveniences that we desire and feel entitled to (regardless of the total cost).
And, even the innocent are swept up into this mess that we have made. Babies – too young to decide to choose their own sinful nature over God’s instructions – are harmed, whether directly by mankind’s evil choices, or indirectly by the corruption that has followed generations of sinful humans. Even repentant sinners endure the persistent consequences of previous choices, and suffer from living in a fallen world.2
But, once we know this, then what? This is some heavy stuff, so let me just offer a few thoughts for us all to ponder, and perhaps to act upon.
- Recognize that the penalty of living in a fallen world sometimes causes bad things to happen to “good” people. Yes, those of us who have sinned can’t really call ourselves good, but there is not always a one-to-one mapping between sin and suffering on a person-by-person basis. Instead, there is a one-to-one correlation between being part of a sinful people in a fallen world, and experiencing the consequences of humankind’s sin.
- While helping alleviate the pain of suffering in others, make sure that we are striving to address the root cause of this problem, which is sin. God, in His love, didn’t leave us alone in our filth, separated – by our choice – from Himself. The more that we can steer people towards Jesus’ payment for their sins (and our own), and strive to live a life that is as sin-free as possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, the less evil persists in this world, and the closer we get to what God intended. (Don’t stop helping people with physical, mental, and emotional needs, though – just don’t forget to also help them with their spiritual needs.)
- Look forward to the day when God’s ideal for us is restored. If the consequences of sin and rebellion against God are here to remind us that this isn’t what God intended, this reminder also encourages us that God keeps His promises and will eventually restore us (purging out our sinful nature), even as he has also restored our relationship with Him.
In Heaven, I expect that we’ll still work – just like Adam was supposed to in the Garden of Eden – but it will be more like the loving cultivation of a grape farmer tying up vines with strips of cloth, and not the pain of pulling thistles out of hardened earth in the blazing heat of summer.
Let’s not blame God for the mess we’ve made. At the same time, though, let’s enjoy the restored relationship that He provided through Jesus’ sacrifice (while sharing that great opportunity with others), and work to make this fallen world as good as we can, until our hope is fulfilled in eternity with God.
- Please don’t be one of those people who blames women for introducing sin into the world. Not only did Adam and Eve both disrespect God and disobey His instruction, but history is littered with billions of both men and women – including you and me – who chose to sin, as well. ↩
- Some might argue that God could have just overlooked this sin, and left life pleasant, happy, peaceful, and perfect. If He had done that, though (contrary to His holy nature), I’m certain that we would have never gotten the point:
Sin is bad.No, strike that: Sin is terrible, horrible, even terminal. It is offensive to both God and His creation, including ourselves. It causes us to deserve death: not just the expiration of our corporeal bodies, but a permanent separation from God Himself. Since God is perfect and holy, our choosing to be unrighteous (even once) is choosing to separate ourselves from Him. Let’s not try to [pretend to] be God and tell Him what to do, since none of us have spent even a day with His responsibilities. ↩