I am writing these reflections while being in a state of intellectual constipation. I just felt like I needed to write this post first, before continuing my academic tasks.
We had our bible study on Ecclesiastes 3 last Friday. It was yet another familiar passage… or so I thought. Towards the end, I realized that the writer referred to work as “God’s gift to man”:
12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
-Ecclesiastes 3: 12-13 (ESV)
The first thing that came to mind after reading this was God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:
“Because you listened to your wife
and ate from the tree
That I commanded you not to eat from,
‘Don’t eat from this tree,’
The very ground is cursed because of you;
getting food from the ground
Will be as painful as having babies is for your wife;
you’ll be working in pain all your life long.
The ground will sprout thorns and weeds,
you’ll get your food the hard way,
Planting and tilling and harvesting,
sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk,
Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried;
you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”
-Genesis 3:17-19 (The Message)
How did the writer of Ecclesiastes arrive at the idea that the very same work, which seemed like a punishment or curse in Genesis became “God’s gift”? How could one find joy in pain?
I found these questions very relevant as I personally struggled with dragging my feet when it came to making a thesis/project proposal for my graduate studies. I find joy in teaching students. I enjoy interacting with people and exploring new places during academic extension activities. I find dish-washing to be therapeutic. Yet research for me is the definition of toil. The first three tasks seem to fit the Ecclesiastes 3 definition, yet the last one seems to align more with Genesis.
If we were to use the principle that the bible is internally consistent, then we must assume that all 4 tasks are on the same category. In trying to reconcile these two passages, I think that there are 3 ways to look at the situation:
(1) The writer of Ecclesiastes was wrong in his views
(2) The text in Ecclesiastes represents God’s progressive revelation: what seemed like a curse or punishment to Adam was later revealed to actually be God’s gift.
(3) Both the Genesis and Ecclesiastes views hold true until today, and only seem contradictory because we are mere humans with limited understanding, much in the same way that ants will not be able to understand how bicycles work.
I’m inclined to believe that it’s either the second or the third. What I will be sharing below are only my reflections, which at most, represent my personal theology or opinions.
How can hard work (research, in my case) be God’s gift to man?
- Being given work that is seemingly more than we can handle allows us to call upon God, to realize our need for Him.
- Work allows us to interact with God’s creation: the ground, the animals, inanimate objects, etc.
- In research, we discover more about God’s creation – cells, molecules, human physiology, how the world works, etc.
- Working allows us to see both the extent of our God-given capabilities (physical, intellectual), and their limitations.
- Seeing the “fruit”of one’s labor gives meaning to life.
- The difficulty of toil in daily living allows us to appreciate the future more – that moment when God’s people will be in His presence.
How can we exercise “joy” in our work? What should our response to God be when we are working?
- Acknowledge your need for God, seek Him in fellowship and prayer.
- Exercise your sense of wonder when interacting with God’s marvelous creation – other human beings, animals, and nature.
- Praise God for giving you the capacity to do meaningful work, and for allowing you to discover the many treasures that He has hidden.
- Thank God for allowing you to participate in stewarding His creation.
- Worship God.
How should I materialize these reflections in my current situation?
- I should understand that joy in not a matter of how I feel regarding a certain task, but rather something that stems from understanding God’s design for work.
- I should not let the apparent difficulty of what I am doing overshadow its significance.
- I should constantly cling to God for sustenance and wisdom.
- I should look forward to the possible fruits of this endeavor.
- I should look forward to eternity with Christ – his work has been done, and someday, our toil will be, too.
- I should learn to treasure toil simply because it is God’s gift.
- I should always have a worshipful attitude while working.
Questions for reflection:
- How is your attitude towards your work?
- What does it mean for you to enjoy work as God’s gift?
Okay, now it’s time to labor 🙂