Chapter 1 - God’s Creative Work: How Work Began
Where did work come from? Who invented it? Or is it just a consequence of the Fall? Perhaps it was a punishment God laid on sinful humans?
There are certainly times when we all feel that way. Particularly when work seems so hard and frustrating. However, the biblical reality is quite different.
God is a worker
The Bible leaves us with the unmistakable message that, right from the beginning of time, work is good. Why? Because Genesis 1 is really an account of work – embarked on by God, and obviously very satisfying to him. As Eugene Peterson writes:
The Bible begins with the announcement, “In the beginning God created.” Not “sat majestic in the heavens”. He created. He did something. He made something. He fashioned heaven and earth. The week of creation was a week of work. 
An interesting exercise is to read through the first two chapters of Genesis, highlighting all the verbs that describe activities engaged in by God or others. You’ll soon discover the breadth of God’s work habits and the range of his creative genius.
Think of the fun God must have had dreaming up and making stuff that never existed before. What a wild imagination! God is intensely innovative and his development of Planet Earth (to say nothing of the rest of the universe) is thoroughly ground-breaking. In making the land and sea, a million varieties of living creatures, night and day, trees and plants by the score, and much more, God shows himself to be the ultimate trailblazer. A master craftsperson.
Now here’s an important point: if being creative is core to who God is, then it’s clear that God did not stop creating after Genesis 1 & 2. His creative energies are still being applied. For example, we know from scientists that the universe continues to grow. There are galaxies being added all the time. And we must assume there are countless other ways his creativity is being expressed, even as you read this – like all the totally unique babies being born around the world right this minute.
In fact, it’s interesting to observe, as Robert Banks notes in his book, God the Worker, the number of images used throughout Scripture to describe aspects of God’s work, such as shepherd, potter/craftsperson, builder and architect, weaver, gardener, farmer, musician and artist.
So here in Genesis, right at the very beginning of the Bible, we are faced with the truth that God himself is a worker. Purposeful activity is an intrinsic part of God’s character and nature.
Creation – born to work in partnership with God
God’s creative work tells us much about who he is and what he is like. The picture may not be complete, but it does give us a glimpse of his character. This is particularly so in God’s act of creating men and women – the ultimate expression of his creativity – a point well captured by the Psalmist, who congratulates God for making us so wonderfully unique and complex – both inside and out (Ps 139).
In fact, God states in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” This tells us much about ourselves. We have been made to resemble and reflect who God is. Therefore, because work is part of God’s nature, he clearly intends it to be part of ours as well. In other words, we are workers because we are made in the image of a God who works. It’s in our genes. Like Father, like sons and daughters; we too need to be engaged in creative and purposeful activities. Deprived of this opportunity we are robbed of something essential for our wellbeing. Think how you feel when you have nothing to do and time lies heavy on your hands!
But our involvement in work is not simply for our own benefit. God has a job for us – he wants our help in achieving his purposes. His intention is for us to become his co-workers. The mandate God gave Adam and Eve was to share in his work. At the very beginning God was prepared to entrust the garden to humans.
Having been “made in God’s image”, we are called to be God’s representatives. We are God’s hands and feet working in partnership with God in his world.
In the Creation narrative of Genesis 1, this is expressed in God’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion” over all living things. This stewardship role is a call for humans to work with God using our abilities, time, and possessions to further God’s purposes. Because of this, the value and significance of our work is directly related to how connected it is with God’s work.
We find further expressions of this partnership in Genesis 2, in the story about the planting of the garden and the naming of the animals. Here God is the landscaper who designs the garden and plants trees that are both economically functional ("good for food") and aesthetically pleasing ("pleasant to the sight"). Clearly the value of work should not be measured by economic criteria alone.
Then we are told that God placed a person in the garden to “till it and to keep it” … to cultivate and to conserve. Thus God’s creative work is linked with our creativity – a creativity that is designed both to preserve what God has given and to build on it through further creative ventures, using the resources that God has provided. The “tilling” suggests that we have a role to play in helping prepare things so that the potential for growth which God has placed in them can be realized.
In the story of the naming of the animals we find God creating animals and birds, then parading them past the man so that he can name them. The man is invited to add his creativity to God’s. "Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name". Given the significance of naming in Hebrew culture, clearly the man is delegated both real responsibility and great freedom.
In summary then, we can say that:
- Work is good. If God does it, it must be okay.
- We are meant to be God’s co-workers and help bring about God’s purposes.
- God intends for us to share responsibility and exercise our creativity.
- The value and significance of our work is directly dependent on its connection with God’s work.
Up Close and Personal
- Read through the first two chapters of Genesis, highlighting all the verbs (“doing” words) that describe activities engaged in by God. Make a list of them. Describe the range of God’s work.
- Now read through the first two chapters of Genesis again, highlighting all words that talk about human work. How are these tasks related to God’s work? What similarities or connections can you see between these tasks and the work you do?
- Is all work good?
Look back over the list of work – tasks and roles – you made at the end of the Introduction.
- Can you see any of the activities engaged in by God reflected in your work?
- What opportunities do the tasks you undertake give you to be creative?
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (IVP: Downers Grove, 1980), 104.
Robert Banks, God The Worker (Albatross: Sutherland, NSW, 1992).
Clearly, work is not the sum total of what God is “into”. Genesis 2:2 tells us that “…God…rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” This is not because he exhausted himself, but rather to enjoy what he had created. Rest complements work and indeed work only makes sense in the light of rest.
It’s interesting to note that God creates Eve to be a helper to Adam. She is to help Adam fulfil the responsibilities God had entrusted him with.