Does our earthly work matter to God?
Yes it does, replies Darrell Cosden in his book The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. Central to his argument is the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which the church celebrates this Easter.
Cosden correctly asserts that Christ’s resurrection means three things for how we live and work in the world.
1. Christ’s Resurrection Affirms the Goodness of the Material World.
God made us in his image, but we were made to be physical images as well. Our physicality isn’t a result of the Fall. We were created that way.
We don’t need to feel bad about being physical beings. This is what God intended.
We were created to be co-workers with God. Within this call to work is an expectation of human achievement. We are called to build, to make, to shape the world through our work to the benefit of all of God’s creation.
We work in order to improve ourselves as well as the creation, shaping both humanity and the whole creation in ways which will endure eternally.
2. Christ’s Resurrection Demonstrates the Continuity between the Present World and the New Creation.
The New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 isn’t a brand new creation ex nihilo, but the old creation, renewed, restored, and transformed into something beautiful.
It’s a city – not the natural Garden of Eden, but the ultimate symbol of human culture – and “people will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
Cosden contends that the good things of human work and culture will have a place in the new heavens and the new earth. Our work matters because it will last.
3. Christ’s Resurrection Is a Sign That the New Creation, While Not Fully Realized, Has Been Initiated.
Our work is valuable because the fruits of our labor, having been redeemed and transformed, will carry over from this world to the world to come (even in ways we don’t completely understand).
While our work is redeemed through Christ’s work on the cross, our work isn’t yet fully restored. We still serve in a broken world, making the work we do both ambiguous and imperfect, as well as often boring and frustrating.
But “just as Jesus’ hand still bore the mark of the nails in his post-resurrection body, so even the partial goods we create can be transformed and made beautiful.”
Our work will be fully restored when Christ returns, both the good work we have done in the past and all the good work we will do in the future eternity of the New Earth.
The frustration and decay of this current age aren’t the whole picture.
We live in what theologians call the “already, but not yet.” We live between the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. Redemption enables us to imagine a new creation, and to work to begin the process of building it, right here, right now, through the power of Christ at work within us.
As we celebrate Easter and affirm again that “He has risen,” let us also remember Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 15. After an extended discussion of both Christ’s resurrection and our own future bodily resurrection he writes:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
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