Christ, Work, and Rest (Part 1)

The buzzer rings insistently. Throughout the world, hands reach out and search for illusive buttons on clocks and phones. Varied thoughts crowd into millions of minds as their owners rise out of bed to face a new day.

One can’t face the prospect. He mumbles something to the person next to him about ringing the office and being sick. However, he’s not sick but he is sick of work. It’s a repetitive job – boring, difficult, and tedious.

Another mind snaps into action as its owner thinks of the list of things to be done this day. The project she completed four hours ago needs to be presented today, key business contacts need to be rung. She dresses quickly, grabs a cup of coffee, pecks her drowsy children on the cheek with a few murmured instructions and jumps in the car to join the lines of traffic headed for the city.

Somewhere else, another mind is weighed down with depression. The owner of this mind slowly dresses himself while he thinks of the interview. There have been three interviews this week and forty over the past six months. None have come to anything. This man longs for a job, for something worthwhile. He yearns for a pay packet, not so much because of his financial needs but more so that he can know that he is somebody. He wants the affirmation that he is worth something.

Elsewhere the owner of another mind doesn’t need an alarm because it has been woken by something even more powerful: a cry that signalled a wet or dirty backside. Through blurred and sleepy eyes, she stares and half wonders. Surely, there is something more to life than this. Is this why I did all that study and those years of grinding out assignments?

Work, career, the job, all are words that strike us and raise multitudes of reactions. For some they carry connotations of meaning, significance, and worth or even triumph, power, and success. For others, they mean drudgery or a means to a greater end: rest, leisure and recreation. Sometime these word can also conjure up violence, whether it be the violence that work does to themselves or the impact it has on their families and friends.

No matter what reaction, the issue of work is one that none of us can avoid for very long. It is a fact of life and like all facts of life, God has a view on it. So, in this short series of articles, my hope is to explore some of the key things that God has to say within Scripture about work (and rest).

God, Work, and Rest

God, Work, and Rest

The earliest pages of the Bible address the question of work as they describe God and his activity in his world. On the very first page we see him at work as the Creator, speaking his word and by it creating locations and then forming those things which that will populate them. The image is of God as worker and the word ‘work’ is used to describe his activity during those first six days (Genesis 2:2). However, the very same verse goes on to indicate that he is not only a worker. He also rests from work and this characterises the seventh day. On it, ‘he rested from all the work of creating he had done’ (Genesis 2:3). There is therefore a rhythm in God’s activity: he works … and he rests.

Even if there was nothing else that could be gained from this, surely we must assert that work is godlike in principle. To work is to be like God. Moreover, rest is godlike in principle. To rest is to be like God.

​ Humans, Work, and Rest

​ Humans, Work, and Rest

These same introductory verses to the Bible also describe the creation of humans. They are made in the image and likeness of God. Although the word for ‘rule’ will only later be applied to God’s activity in his world (e.g. Exodus 15:18; Psalm 145), this passage implicitly indicates that he rules the world. Hence, when he creates humans in his image and likeness, he gives them the task of ruling the world (Genesis 1:26). In chapter 2, he also gives them specific work to do—to work the Garden of Eden and to take care of it (Genesis 2:15). As God himself works, so too must they. He is a cosmic gardener who rules over his world and they are to be cosmic gardeners, working in it and ruling over it. Later in Scripture this parallel between God and humans will be put into the form of a commandment for the people of God.

Humans therefore work because God works. Work can have meaning
because God gives it meaning. He creates them as workers and he sees
what he has made and pronounces it ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

However, Exodus 20:9–11 also develops something that is not
present in Genesis 1–2. It shows us that since God is one who rests, he
also desires that humans also rest. As with work, rest has meaning
because God gives it meaning. He creates people who need rest and who
have it in their nature to rest.

What an idyllic and beautiful picture: created to rule over God’s
creation, working in it, ruling under his rule, resting in it even as
God rests after his work! But is this the reality of our experience in
the world? If not, why not?

This is the focus of the second part in this

Photo: © Romolo Tavani/Dollar Photo Club