Chapter 4 - God’s Maintenance Work: Redeeming the Mundane
Wayne’s upstairs home office has a splendid vista looking out over trees to the hills beyond. And when he goes downstairs, the view is even better – a backyard full of beautiful gardens, trees and grass. He often marvels at the creative genius of God and his co-workers (such as his wife, Jill!) who have created such beauty and inspiration.
But nothing ever stays the same. The splendor of the view also reminds him of things that need doing – lawns to mow, trees to prune, fences to rebuild or paint, a house to wash and gardens to weed. If he could just get the benefit of the great surroundings without having to constantly tidy up, things would be perfect!
This, of course, is the reality of living in God’s created world. A world full of beauty and wonder is also a world of both growth and decay. Maintenance is part of the deal.
And that’s true for God as well. Sometimes we assume that God’s work ended the day the cosmos – his great creative masterpiece – was finished. But his responsibility did not stop there. He is still hard at work sustaining life in our universe. Much like the work required in order to maintain a beautiful garden, God’s ongoing attention is required. He is not some remote creator who has lost interest in his universe.
For many centuries Christians have used the word “providence” to describe this involvement. Simply put, the universe continues to depend on the continuing touch of its Creator every moment to maintain its existence. If God stopped working, our universe would disintegrate. His providence is what allows our world to continue.
Alec Motyer, in his exploration of the meaning of Isaiah 42:5-6, puts it this way – “The power which called everything into being keeps it in being”.
The Bible backs this up. For example, the writer of Hebrews states in 1:3 that the Son is “… sustaining all things by his powerful word”, while Paul comments in Colossians 1:17, “In him [the Son] all things hold together”. Peter expresses this same thought somewhat differently when he writes, “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment …” (2 Peter 3:7).
Job 34:14 and Psalm 104:29 also say in different words that if God ceased to breathe his life into us we would immediately return to dust. A sobering thought.
Of course this activity of God’s does not appear nearly as dramatic as those initial acts of creation. This is more like God’s housekeeping work. But nevertheless without his continuing involvement in this way, life would cease, chaos would reign, and the universe would disintegrate.
This sustaining work is different from the redeeming work that we considered in the previous chapter, though they inevitably overlap. Redeeming work seeks to transform a negative situation and make it better, never settling for the status quo. Sustaining work maintains life by preserving the status quo. Both are important.
Practicing God’s presence
One of the main ways God maintains life on this planet is through our work – tasks such as cleaning, painting, repairing, even putting out the rubbish! These often boring, routine chores hardly seem like spiritual tasks. But they are – even if practicing the presence of God in the midst of the mundane does not come automatically.
We all find it easy to see God at work in miraculous events, but less so in everyday ones. Unfortunately, as a result we end up with a much-reduced vision of God and his work. And sadly, it’s also a very limited vision of the significance of our own daily work. We fail to see it through God’s eyes.
Cultivating, growing, picking, preparing, cooking, parenting, nurturing, educating, collecting, counting, administering, distributing, transporting, testing, preserving, cleaning, serving… all of these activities, and many more, are examples of our sustaining work. They are, therefore, part of God’s maintenance work too.
These tasks all have value and significance. If I don’t mow the lawns, repair the fences, paint the house and trim the trees, our backyard will soon become overgrown and our house will rot and decay. This work is an important part of my role as a steward of God’s creation. And it’s only as I begin to recognize the role these tasks play in sustaining life that I am able to infuse them with the dignity they deserve.
If I’m really going to recapture a sense of God in the midst of the mundane I will need to develop a new kind of everyday spirituality, and a new sense of awe in the ordinary. I’ll need to recognize God at work in every set of circumstances, with no part of life untouched by his presence, or excluded from his purposes.
God’s work of restraint
There’s another aspect to God’s sustaining work. It has to do with restraining evil in our world. We looked briefly at the impact of the Fall on the world of work in a previous chapter. But part of God’s work is also to hold evil in check and to limit the extent of harm and destruction it causes.
Here’s where the command of Jesus to his followers to be salt in the world, makes real sense. Salt is a preservative and its presence enables food to remain good and wholesome for considerable periods of time. As God’s co-workers, this is one of our roles.
Some ways in which our work is linked to this restraining aspect of God’s work includes exercising discipline, developing legal restraints and rules, monitoring and enforcing laws, peacemaking, and holding things together when they threaten to fall apart.
To some people the extent of evil seems already too awful to contemplate and actually becomes a barrier to belief in the goodness of God. However, for others the mere fact that life continues with as many good experiences as we enjoy is witness to the restraining power of God at work in a world that would otherwise disintegrate. The chaos and anarchy in our world would be so much worse without God’s restraining hand.
Up Close and Personal
- How do you understand “providence”?
- In what ways do you see God working now to sustain his creation?
- Make a list of as many tasks and occupations as you can think of where the sustaining role of work is foremost.
- In what ways do you see your personal work connected to God’s sustaining work?
- In what ways can you see your work and involvement as preservative (salt)?
- “To some people the extent of evil seems already too awful to contemplate and actually becomes a barrier to belief in the goodness of God. However, for others the mere fact that life continues with as many good experiences as we enjoy is witness to the restraining power of God at work in a world that would otherwise disintegrate.” What do you think about this?
Refer back to the list of tasks and roles you made at the end of the Introduction.
- Mark the ones that are primarily maintenance tasks.
- Now mark the ones that are mundane tasks.
- Which tasks have you marked twice?
Spend some time reflecting on how you can value these the same way God does. How might you be able to view these tasks as spiritual exercises?
J.A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 321.