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No TED Talks in Eden


In the last post, “Work is Not a Dirty Word“, we noted the wrong-headedness of believers assuming that just because it is difficult that work is, therefore, a consequence of the Fall. Work was created by God as very good.

Man worked with joy and pleasure before the fall, and in the eternal state, he will once again enjoy the unfrustrated, painless joy of work as it was intended. But in this post, I want to focus in on how the fall did corrupt work and make it harder. We will examine how God’s curse in response to Adam’s sin made work the arduous thing we have today. And we will see that without the fall we would never have given productivity a second thought. It was the fall which made giving attention to productivity even necessary.

In other words, if mankind had not fallen, and God had not cursed the earth, this blog would not exist, nor would it need to.

Sin Makes Everything More Difficult

The whole reason we need to give attention to productivity is because of sin. Sin makes everything more difficult. Surprisingly, scholars and archaeologists have found no evidence to indicate that there were TED talks given in the garden of Eden. Adam never read an article outlining “10 Proven Tips to Help You Reach Inbox Zero.” He didn’t need to muster up the mental energy to meet the day’s demands. The Garden was entirely void of procrastination. Why? Because productivity was natural for man in the pre-fall state. We were made to work and we did it effectively and with joy.

But you and I ain’t in Eden no mo’.

Something happened to mankind that damaged the pure joy of work. Something happened that cursed work with pain, frustration, and disorder. Even though now we would admit that our work holds some pleasure, still so much of our days are consumed with simply trying to hold back the tides of entropy. Every Monday we feel afresh that sharp prick of the thistles and thorns of a cursed work.

So, if you ever feel that the world is conspiring against you getting anything done, that’s because it is—it literally is. That’s the curse at work in work. But how did we get here?

The Day Man Fell

You know the story. God places Adam and Eve in the midst of the Garden and gives them just one prohibition—do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15–17). The serpent tempts Eve, she eats, Adam eats, God shows up, big trouble.

We call this event the fall of mankind because in Adam the human race fell from their state of innocence into a state of guilt before God. Romans 5:18 says, “one trespass led to condemnation for all men.” And 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “in Adam all die.” This is why every human being is damned by default and in dire need of a savior (John 3:18).

And while spiritual condemnation and death were the main and worst consequence of Adam’s sin, God also imposed consequences on the life of mankind even while he walked this earth. These consequences we call the curse.

Earthly Consequences of the Curse

For the woman childbearing became more painful (Genesis 3:16). For the man, God curses work. He told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (3:17–19).

Adam’s work was mainly agricultural but principally this curse on work extends beyond just Adam and farming. The whole thistles and thorns thing seems to have enveloped every type of work. There is a reason that we often use work as a synonym for things which are arduous, frustrating, and which we would rather not do.

The curse introduced “Ugh!” into our vocabulary.

The Curse Brought Confusion

Ask any Christian farmer how the curse has made his job difficult and you’re likely to get an earful. But in this age of cubicles and computer screens, many of us perform jobs which are less physical and more mind-based. How has the curse affected our work? We get a clue from another threatened curse for disobedience.

When Moses delineates the curses that would befall God’s people if they disobeyed the Law, he tells them that Yahweh would “send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do…” (Deuteronomy 28:20). I wonder if the general confusion that is a source of so much frustration in our knowledge work—we don’t know how to prioritize, we aren’t sure what to do next, we can’t wrap our heads around a problem—I think much of that confusion is also a consequence of work being cursed for man’s disobedience.

Similarly, theologians talk about what they call the noetic effects of sin. That is how sin has damaged the thinking of people. This is most clearly seen in Romans 1. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21). There is a futility to the thinking of man, so much so that they cannot even acknowledge the obvious truth of who God is.

It should come as no surprise then, that the confusion which so marks our work and frustrates us is yet another consequence of sin. And what I’m driving at here is that this cursed and confused work is what makes us giving attention to productivity non-optional. Because we will not overcome these thistles and thorns by chance. We must work hard to restore order in our working lives.

The Necessity of Productivity

Have you ever had a morning start off great? You’ve got a warm cup of coffee. You have your task list written down. You’ve planned out how you are going to knock out a few projects. You’re ready to be productive. But before you get halfway through the morning, someone pops into your office with an urgent matter, you receive a call from your spouse that the kid is sick, or half a dozen other fires need to be put out right now. And almost before it began, that satisfying and productive workday you had planned is now completely shot. That’s part of work in a post-curse world. And that working chaos is what believer’s must actively seek to control if we would have any hope of being productive in our work.

The sad reality is if we don’t give attention to productivity, chaos is the inevitable outcome. In fact, Solomon compares the lazy, unproductive man to a destructive person. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9). Being lazy and just letting things rot is virtually the same as being someone who purposefully destroys things. The result of both is the same: destruction. Whether you actively tear down or simply let things fall apart due to neglect, you’re a destroyer. This is why we must daily plod up the down escalator of entropy if we would hope to even stay in the same place, much less making progress.

Conclusion

Because work is cursed, we need to pay heed to productivity. We need to actively be about trying to overcome the thistles and thorns which are ever stretching their destructive tendrils into all that we do. But God has given us the grace to bear good fruit even in a cursed world. So let’s seek to serve Him all the more diligently and also take advantage of the common graces He so kindly gives us so that we can push back against the curse and work heartily as unto the Lord.

In the next post we will talk a more about how work relates to the gospel, and how being a redeemed person, though it doesn’t remove the consequences of the curse on our work, does more fully equip us to work in a way that is pleasing unto God.

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Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and Director of Digital Platforms at Grace to You. I also blog for The Master's Seminary.

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