Reaching Forward

As a farm boy, my work seemed closely connected with Adam's after God banished him from the garden. While hoeing acre after acre of sugar beets, I could identify with the “painful toil,” the “thorns and thistles,” and the “sweat of your brow” involved in post-sin work. Today, my world has changed radically. So radically that my farm-work phase seems almost as if it occurred in another lifetime.

Yet part of that experience still shapes how I work today. For example, my dad once sent me to wipe out a creeping carpet of weeds. I attacked the patch at its center. Dad stopped me. He pointed out I was covering up still-living weeds with the now-dead victims of my hoe. Those survivors would hide out and reappear in time. Instead, he said, start from one edge and work toward the middle.

My work today hardly resembles that weed-work of so many decades ago. Yet the lesson learned from that work experience continues to sway my current work: Approach work thoughtfully, considering how one action affects another and how that should influence the sequence.

My work in a past “world” affects my present “world.” Similarly, it appears that our work on God's temporary earth will have some influence in God's new earth. As they consider the meaning of human work, certain theologians are concluding from Scripture that our earthwork has not only temporary but also eternal significance.

For example, Darrell Cosden puts it this way in his book, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work: “In the Spirit we do have the potential, to some degree at least, to anticipate the new creation, to bring about within this creation states of affairs that anticipate the future glorification of ourselves, of nature, and of our work. . . . And we can enact these possibilities in our work as well as in other areas of life.”

Miroslav Volf, born in Croatia, now serving as a professor at Yale University Divinity School, writes: “Christians should understand their mundane work as ‘work in the Spirit': the Spirit of God calls and gifts people to work in active anticipation of the eschatological [end times] transformation of the world.”

Quoting Darrell Cosden again, “There will be, no doubt, some specific products of our work that through judgment will be transformed and incorporated into the ‘new physics' of the new creation. . . . If our work really does form and express at least a part of our human activity and personality, and since this work is genuinely now a part of the physical creation, it is not then unwarranted to think that, along with resurrecting us, God can ‘resurrect' some of these things too.”

The practical question comes down to this: How can you do your earthwork now in “active anticipation” of the new earth to come? Cosden writes: “Since it is not our job to make all things new, in our work we simply do our best to creatively reflect God and embody heavenly ‘kingdom values' in every sphere of life.”

Picture your active anticipation as “reaching forward” while you work. Being motivated not only by your work's present usefulness, but also by the hope that God will preserve and purify lasting value from it and carry it into his new creation.

Workplace Ministry