Why Work Matters

“The Lord God took [Adam] and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it.”

     There comes a point in every college student’s career that he is faced with an assignment requiring hours of intense study, and decides that the task at hand is simply not worth his time. Perhaps the assignment is for a class he does not care about. Perhaps the task does not contribute to his endeavors. The situation is complicated further when the product can be achieved without the painstaking work, and thus, the work itself seems pointless. Who really cares about the work, so long as the result is the same?

     Such an argument is in danger of misunderstanding what it is that we are made for. By devaluing work, we grievously lose sight of the “good life” as depicted in the story of man’s ontology in Genesis. Often, when we think of the man’s end state, we imagine sitting in heaven, wearing flowing white robes, shining halos, and sitting around doing nothing. But this is nowhere close to the image we are given. Go back and look at the first two chapters of Genesis and you will find no mention of white robes, halos, or more importantly, anything remotely close to resembling “leisure” as our culture is usually want to define it. Instead we are given images of gardens, walking, naming, cultivation, families—in short, work. More importantly, it does not appear that work is for some other end. God does not say, “tend the garden so that you may have money,” or “so that you may have time to be lazy.” Work, in Genesis, is for its own sake. I do not intend to suggest that man was made for toil. Indeed, it seems rather that the sort of work described in Genesis is more akin to play, or the sort of leisure that includes disciplines like philosophy and theology, but the reality of our current state of being is that toil will occur.

     So what does any of this have to do with college? Didn’t I already admit that man was not made for toil, and is not college much more akin to toil than it is to play or leisure? It certainly can be, as in the example above, but nevertheless, there is a value to work that will always far outweigh the value of goofing off. Toil will come, but when it does, we would be far amiss to assume laziness is the proper response. Some of the work we do here will be means to other ends, but when engaging in this utilitarian form of work, we must not fall into the trap of believing that work itself is to be avoided. Work makes us human; it was we are for, and I truly believe that all work, be it “useful” or not, will help form us into the sorts of persons Christ (who was once himself a carpenter) calls us to be.

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