Why are we here? What is the meaning of all this?
These are questions that I get asked from time to time and while I don’t have specific answers for every person, I do think that we can grab some major principles to help us in that pursuit from Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:15-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
As is our usual approach, we are simply going to take a cursory look at the passage and see what it says about our topic.
First, God put Adam in the garden to work. Work is a fundamental purpose for our existence. And that matters! I was taught growing up that work was a result of the fall and therefore was a punishment for sin. But what we see even before the fall was that God placed Adam in the garden with a purpose and a task list. This reality should help us embrace the grind of our day to day lives.
Now here is the next question in my mind… Why did God choose work? How come we couldn’t just hang out and visit everyday and be lazy and happy? We can speculate all day long about some of the reasons why and that would be of some benefit, but I want to look at the word itself to see what we can learn there.
The word translated “work” is the Hebrew word avodah. It can be translated work. But it also describes the act of bringing sacrifices - whether at the temple, or in another context. It is also translated “worship.”
Our work is an act of worship to God as a bringing of a sacrifice to Him. Paul picks up on this metaphor in the New Testament in Romans 12:1…
Therefore, I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. This is your obviously logical act of worship.
Now before you start trying to rip the translation work here on Romans 12, please note that the word that is typically translated “spiritual” (in the phrase "spiritual act of worship”) is the greek word logican. We get our word “logic” from it. the word doesn’t ever mean spiritual. It means logical. More specifically, it means obviously logical.
Here is Paul’s point, and I think the first point that we should take from Genesis 2 in understanding our purpose…
When we see God for who He really is, and how much He loves us, every action that we take - especially work - should not only be a task list, but should also be an act of worship through which we put our God on display to the world. Now let’s tie this to where we have been already in this series…
God isn’t upset and He creates the world good and full of potential. He also creates man this way. And God makes man, in His own image, to steward the garden. Adam, then, in fulfilling his created purpose is worshipping God by using what God has placed in him that is eternal and good and redeemable. And that is to work at keeping creation lined up with God’s agenda for it.
The second major point I would pull out concerning purpose is this: mankind is created to love God and worship Him. But love demands a choice.
I often get asked questions that revolve around this idea: If God knew that man was going to choose wrong, why did He put the bad tree in the garden to begin with?
Simple answer: love demands choice.
In other words, I cannot tell you that I truly love you until I have had a reason to not love you and I choose loving you. Give me a condition that would cause me to want to choose to not love you. And I will prove to you whether my love for you is unconditional or not.
We were made to love God. And that love demands that we have the opportunity to show the opposite of love. If we don’t have that choice, then we were made to be controlled. And that is one view of how the gods function in the world. But it is not how the story has been unfolding so far. Nor is it how the story will continue to unfold. Choices, and therefore consequences, will be a part of this adventure.
But I have Good news: they aren’t the only part of the adventure. In view of God’s mercy, offer your body to the purpose for which it was created.
The third major point I would propose is this: As image bearers, we are like God in so many ways, one of the big ways is that we are no good alone.
This is the first major crisis of Scripture. “It is not good for man to be alone.” So, God makes a perfect helper. (And I don’t even have time to talk about all the ways we have misinterpreted that over the years.) I would make one note of observation at this point that we will reference back to later. Notice that Adam is charged with naming the animals of creation. But he does not give woman her name. And please don’t say, well he named her woman. Adam is a man, but his name is Adam. She is a woman, but her name is…??? We don’t know yet. Why can’t he give her a name? That may be a much more important question than you think.
We are created for community. We are created for relationship with people around us. Even in the secular world, they will say it this way - What we know is that the reason we are here is for connection. It is woven into the fiber of our psyche. We cannot escape it.
The fourth and last major theme I will propose here is that Adam and Eve are in the garden and they are described as “naked and not ashamed.”
What does that mean? I would strongly suggest that it has very little to do with the amount of clothes they had on. It is more about the posture of their souls as they mingle together. There was no other voice. No hidden agenda. No secrets. No shame. Imagine a marriage like that.
So here is our key to understanding purpose:
God made man for the purpose of worship through all our actions - especially the work we do as image bearers of God. This should come from a place of how much we love God, not any other reason (i.e. paycheck, retirement, college, etc.). However, we cannot accomplish this purpose alone. We will either get lost in our purpose or we will do the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. So God gives us community to help steer us and keep us on track. Our goal in community is to have no selfish or personal agenda, but to be there for the explicit purpose of the success of those I am in community with. Then we carry no shame.
This has endless implications for our lives. First, it is imperative that we find the sweet spot of how we best express the image of God in us as we function in the world. This allows me to be most in line with my created purpose and therefore most fulfilled in my life. But working is still an act of worship whether it is a job I love or not. It is still something that reveals my attitude. And working a job that I do not love can still honor God if I allow myself to have the right attitude. And it is certainly better than not working at all.
Maybe another implication would be that how we steward all of creation is a direct reflection on how we view work. If work is to become worship, then I must perform my work in a way that is consistent with God’s agenda for the world - in every facet. That matters in our post industrial world.
So, may you find yourself expressing who God is and putting him on display even in the mundane tasks of the day. May you find people that surround you and give you God’s perspective on the world. And may you discover with those people what it means to have no other agenda but God’s.
I am sure that you have lots more implications, but for now, some closing questions to get the wheels turning: 1. What does it mean for you to worship God in your workplace? 2. How does thinking about work as worship help you in your view of work? 3. Who is in your life that helps you stay properly focused?
QUESTION FOR NEXT TIME: 1. When does temptation become sin?