At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Is Work a Curse?: The Cultural Mandate (Part 1)


The difference between barbarism and culture is, simply, work.

Lester DeKoster

I have an odd collection: a business card from every job I have worked since college and it is a large stack.  At last count I have worked in seven different industries and the number of jobs…I have lost count (guess I could count the cards).  Yet, as many jobs as I have had, I still remember the first day of my first real job like it was yesterday.

If you’re like me, you’ve often heard the saying that “work is a curse” as result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the beginning, prior to their Fall, God assigned Adam and Eve important work. In Genesis 2 we read about Man’s first day of work:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

Humanity was created by God to cultivate and keep God’s creation, which included developing it and protecting it.

You see, we were created to be stewards of God’s creation through our work. The opening two chapters of Genesis provide a foundation for how God sees work, culture, and our responsibility. This same perspective extends throughout all the Scriptures.

Work is not a curse but a gift from God given to us before the Fall. By our work we employ useful skills to glorify God, love our neighbors and further God’s Kingdom.

Work is not a result of the Fall, as many incorrectly believe. Although the Fall, because of its curse, made it inevitable that sometimes work is frustrating and difficult (Genesis 3:17-19).

We can better understand our work assignment from God by studying the work that he did in creation, when he brought order out of chaos. A gardener does something similar when he creatively uses the materials at his disposal and rearranges them to produce additional resources for mankind. Thus Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. A gardener is not a park ranger; he does not leave things in their natural state. With this idea in view, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, offers the following definition of work:

Rearranging the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the flourishing of everyone. 

For example, an architect takes steel, wood, concrete, and glass and rearranges them for the flourishing of mankind.  A musician rearranges the raw material of sound to produce music.  That is what Adam was called to do in the garden, and that is what we are still called to do in our work today.

On Man’s first day at work he is given his job description. We will take a closer look at it in the next post on The Cultural Mandate.

Question: How are you a “steward of God’s creation” through your work? Leave a comment

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