Doing Earthwork

Sustaining human life on board the International Space Station (ISS) takes some doing. NASA calls the challenge of building and maintaining the space base “a very complex task.” Spacecraft missions must continually replenish the supply of food and water for the ISS crew—a payload of more than a metric ton in one recent visit. Even the repair of a space toilet required expertise and effort.

Keeping life livable on planet earth—God's “space station”—also requires immense and constant maintenance. God himself put the raw materials on board: soil, water, air, animal life, vegetation and so on. But he assigned to mankind a large role in maintaining this orbiting station. We might describe our role as earthwork.

Earthwork includes all the labor needed to keep this present world habitable as we await God's new creation. God is working out his purposes in his earth as it now exists. He is providing a grace period in which people may turn from their sin to his Son. He is purifying his church. And while God is carrying out those purposes, life here must be sustained and maintained.

True, the planet is currently in temporary bondage to frustration. The world-systems have fallen under the sway of the evil one. But it is still true that “the earth is the Lord's and everything in it” (I Cor. 10:26). This real property still rightly belongs to the One who created it. “He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Is. 45:18).

Space station earth now carries more than 6 billion people. Maintaining an environment fit for human life is, in NASA terms, “a very complex task.” The task breaks down into what seems like an endless variety of earthwork. For example, take our food supply. Eating that apple for lunch seemed simple enough. But getting that fruit from a tree to your mouth involved the labor of a host of contributors. The nursery that provided the seedling trees. The farmer who bought land, planted an orchard and cultivated it for years before it bore any fruit. The companies that produced pesticides and fertilizers to keep the tree alive and healthy. The county extension agent who helped the farmer understand how to grow apples. The hired hand who pulled the ripe apple from the branch. The trucker who hauled it to a warehouse. The other drivers who delivered it to a grocery store near your home. The owner who invested in that grocery outlet. The employee who placed the apple on display in the produce department. The cashier who put the apple in a carry-out bag. After all that, you still paid only 50 cents for the apple!

Just as God created all else by speaking it into existence, he launched our earthwork with his words when he made us: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over . . . all the earth. . . .” (Gen. 1:26). From that beginning, earthwork—like the human population-- has expanded immensely. Earthwork includes both paid and unpaid work. In 2006, the civilian labor force alone included roughly 150 million paid jobs in the United States. The amount and value of unpaid work cannot be calculated.

So whatever your earthwork, you can do it as a service lovingly offered to God to help him maintain his earth and sustain life on this temporary planet. Your work itself has value both to God and to earth's inhabitants.



Workplace Ministry