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How did we get into this mess? – Part 3: work and slavery

by on October 16, 2014

We’re looking at this second creation story in Genesis 2. It’s a fascinating story: it’s like a rich feast, it’s hard to decide what to eat first. One important theme that gets repeated in this passage is work.

v.5 no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for there was no one to work the ground.

v.15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and look after it.

So we’re going to talk about work. I wonder how you feel about your work? It’s a real issue for Aussies today. We like to think of ourselves as a laid back culture. But actually the surveys keep showing that Aussies work longer hours than most other countries. Some people have too little work. But many have too much. They would like to be able to work less. Families as a whole are working longer and longer hours, trying to pay the mortgage. Couples don’t see much of each other. Dad is not around much at all. When he’s home he’s often still working, from home. It feels like work is taking over.

And many of us inhabit our work. Our job becomes who we are. What’s the first thing we ask each other when we meet someone new? What do you do? My job is my identity.

For others work is more like slavery. They’re in such low paid jobs, they can hardly make ends meet. While some are earning $200/hour or more, these people are getting less than $20/hour. If you’re not paid enough to survive on, your effectively a slave. Work is one the main inequalities in our society.

So its very interesting to find that right here at the beginning of the bible story, at the creation, it’s talking about work: v.15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and look after it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden.”

God creates this paradise, this garden home for mankind. Outside the walls all is  barren and hostile, but here in the garden, there is order and life. And God brings in the man to take care of the place. He becomes the gardener. He is placed in charge. And notice his close connection with it all: he is there for the garden, and the garden is there for him. Adam works the land and enjoys the fruit of his work.

In all the other ancient cultures the creation story was quite different:

In the Akkadian story God said, “Let man bear the yoke. Let man take up the drudgery of god.”

In the Sumerian story, the gods were grumbling about the hard work they always had to do, so they made man: One god says to his mother, “Here is the creature: the slave labour of the gods has been forced on it. They will take in their hands hoe and baskets, to benefit the house of the gods.”

In the Babylonian story, Marduk the chief of the gods decides to create a slave force. He says “I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name. He will bear the gods burden so that we may rest.” So he creates man, and says, ‘Without fail let them support their gods!’

See how different these other creation stories are from the one in Genesis? In each of them mankind is created as the slaves of the gods. To take the gods’ burden off them, do their work for them, because the gods are sick of it. Man works the ground to grow food, to feed the gods. They are to offer it up as sacrifices.

In this view, work is bad. Work = drudgery. And the donkey who carries the load, is man. If you worshipped those gods, those idols, then that’s how you thought about work. We’ll call this the idolatrous view of work. In this view work is humiliating. If  that’s work, then the best thing you could do would be to get out of it. Get away from the dirt, be a boss. Better still, if you can stop working, if you can get other people to do your work for you, they can be the slaves down in the muck while you relax – then you have become like the gods!

And that idolatrous view of work is alive and well, with us today. This is exactly what people want in our society. They want to rise up the promotional ladder, to sit in a clean office. Your collar is blue, but mine is beautiful white. That’s how you can tell I never get my hands in the muck. I want to be a boss, and my employees, they are my drudges, a lower class of human who does the dirty work. I am superior. If I get rich enough, I will retire at 40.

And so in our world, you get divided up according to your occupation. The educated and the professionals have always despised and exploited the working classes. “Let the workers do the mucky jobs. They’re hardly better than pack animals.” And the working people have always resented and envied the professionals and educated. In the Russian revolution, after the Bolsheviks took over, do you know what they did with the university people? They shot them. They hated them. Under communism the working class people tried to crush the educated classes. And now under capitalism, the clever can despise and crush the workers. Work divides us up.

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve challenges all that. When God makes Adam, its not because he is grumbling about his tasks. God is already at rest:

on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 

That’s how the creation story in chapter 1 finishes: with God at rest. And God doesn’t need feeding, he doesn’t need slaves to do his work. God is already happy. No, He makes mankind out of love. And the work he gives us to do, it’s not for his benefit – the food of the garden is not to feed God, it’s to feed the humans.

And notice how God makes the man: then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground,

God comes down to the ground, and rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands in the soil, and he makes man out of the dust. And then he gives Adam the task of working the soil, just like God had done.

This gives a high value to ordinary work. God can do it, and he calls the man to do it. In paradise there is work! Work is good

(to be continued)

From → Bible talks

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