It’s a plaguing question that haunts us all.
Does my daily work actually have any lasting, eternal value? (Let’s keep it real. We all ask this from time to time.)
And let me complicate the issue with one further annoying question: Might the Easter season hold clues or help us in any way answer this question of our daily work’s meaning and motivation?
First, let’s be clear. We are including the everyday, down-to-earth stuff like landscaping, making cereal, spreading manure, and running repetitive, tedious lab tests. Yes, the messy, sometimes bloody, dirty stuff. Most of us are quick to assign some greater, lasting value to arenas like teaching children, caring for patients, preaching sermons, creating works of art, or leading a not-for-profit. But what about changing diapers, changing oil at the garage, changing hair color in the salon, or changing light bulbs in a warehouse? ‘Just want to be clear. The question is pertinent for every task, especially and including this often mind-numbing, mundane stuff.
Next, it’s important to grasp work’s original ideal. Work was originally portrayed in God’s grand story as very earthy, dirty, creative, tactile, and marvelously full of worship. Genesis 1 presents God as the original earth-worker. The first man was formed from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). The LORD called and commissioned humans to “rule and reign” in his image (Gen 1:26-28). In Genesis 2:15, he assigned Adam “to work” and “take care” of the garden. This same word for work, when surveyed across the broader scope of Scripture, conveys rich ideas of working in various fields, serving in a full mix of arenas, and even worshiping.
Thus, work and work’s outcomes were blessed and beautiful. However, humanity’s rebellion and the resulting curse sent everything topsy-turvy, horrifically including human work (Gen 3:17-19). Here is at least part of why we now find work tedious, exhausting and sweaty, extra-conflicted by relational stress, and all-too-often perplexing. Yes, we readily encounter daily work as unfulfilling.
SO, what in the world does Easter have to do with our quest for greater motivation and meaning? Tucked in Matthew’s account are two potentially puzzling, curious events. Matthew 27:51b-53 recounts
“The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.”
Why do earthquakes and zombie-like people appear as Jesus is dying? Consider this. Jesus’ gruesome, glorious death evokes an immediate response for the previously cursed creation. Earth quakes. Rocks split. Tombs break open as dusty bodies with brittle bones rejoin (compare Ezekiel 37). New spirit enters long-dead heroes of the Hebrew faith. Eventually, once Christ is raised, these holy “walking dead” come into the holy city, Jerusalem, and appear to many people. This had to feel stunningly apocalyptic.
If your head is spinning with curiosity, ponder the potentially divine reason. God was seriously showing off, displaying a preview, early signs of what is yet to come. Dodson and Watson explain: “Tied to the bodily resurrection is also the idea that the world will be renewed and restored to its state of wholeness as a garden paradise . . . it involves the renewal of what has been destroyed—cities, the land, and all of creation (Isaiah 60; Ezekiel 36) . . . The end of the world would bring about a resurrected creation.” What breaks open at Christ’s death and resurrection is like a movie preview supplying glimpses into scenes that will fully flood the screen at the culmination of history in Christ’s final victory (1 Corinthians 15).
Darrell Cosden posits: “That this salvation of the natural world includes our work follows logically. Work, which has further shaped nature, is now just as much a part of nature as what God made originally . . . we must conclude from this biblical material that our work experiences salvation along with us.” Thus, Cosden links such consummation of Christ’s resurrection, our human resurrections, and the subsequent redemption of Creation (Romans 8) with eventual redemption of our work and work’s outcomes.
As present-day workers, we can find far-reaching hope! Even our most mundane, treacherous tasks—like plowing endless expanses of field, making the umpteenth sales call, or engaging in one more boring board meeting—might actually hold eternal value. When done to serve the Lord Christ, for the good of others, such rough and tumble, everyday, earthy jobs can actually bring him great glory and end up emerging as work that’s included in the shocking, death-defying, restored New Creation at Christ’s triumphant return. No wonder the Apostle Paul closed 1 Corinthians 15 by saying: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
With such earthshaking potential for holy renewal, let’s get motivated in today’s work—with greater enthusiasm—and all for his glory!
Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson. Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, p. 24.
Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. UK: Paternoster, 2006, p. 71.