Work As It Was Meant To Be
The Promise of Redeemed Labour in Heaven
When I was in Grade 7, my homeroom teacher, Mr. Scholtens, said something that fundamentally changed what I thought about God, heaven, and work. We had been discussing heaven (ours was a conservative Reformed Christian school), and Mr. Scholtens, not liking where the discussion was heading, said this: “Do you think God’s bringing you to heaven just so you can sit around all day and be lazy? No. We’ll be working in heaven. There will be work to do.”
That was a concept I’d never heard before. Granted, when you’re 12 years old, certain points of theology are usually not a matter of great reflection. But I think I’d been cruising through life up to that point assuming that heaven was going to be just an eternal vacation. And Mr. Scholtens shook that assumption up.
Thing is, he was right. God never intended his people to pass eternity in unproductive leisure. While many details of what lies after the resurrection are shrouded to us, we can look back to the Scriptures in Genesis 1 and 2 to see an example of paradise. Were Adam and Eve passing their prelapsarian days in sedentary uselessness? Absolutely not. When God created Adam, he gave him a job to do: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28) They were given a mission, an assignment. They were given work to do: reproduce and fill the earth, and subdue it – that is, take control and charge over the earth and its animals and plants. Genesis 2:15 elaborates: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The immediate job given to Adam, as part of humanity’s larger responsibility to subdue the earth, was to “work and keep” the garden. The first man was the first gardener. Groundskeeping was the first occupation. In paradise, where everything was good, there was yet labour and work to be done. And man was expected to do it.
The default view of work today is of a chore that needs to be cleared out of the way, a necessary evil that must be dealt with before one can truly relax and enjoy himself. The whole assumption behind RRSPs and “Freedom 55” is that work is something that should come to an end, to be followed by a comfortable retirement of leisure and comfort. The hope, the dream, is for a time when there will be no work.
And so many Christians, myself included, “assumed” this assumption as truth and looked forward to the next life with the same expectation: God was going to give us an eternal retirement, with no work or chores or obligations.
Which is silly, on the face of it. If God wanted Adam and Eve to work in the paradise of Eden, why would the future paradise, Eden restored in the new heavens and new earth, be any different? Part of the problem is that our view of work is skewed by sin; another part of the problem, though, is that workitself is skewed by sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed Adam with these words: “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 for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam’s work became a burden, rather than a fulfilling joy. Survival required hard labour, struggling against an uncooperative and unwilling earth.
So the promise of resurrection and paradise is not a promise that we will be freed from work. Rather, it is a promise that we, and our work, will be freed from sin, so that our work may become the joy and pleasure it was always intended to be. We will spend eternity in worship of the God who shall dwell among us, and that worship will itself be expressed in part through service to him. What will that labour be? We don’t really know yet. But we can be sure it will be a pleasure and a joy to do.