My pastor has been teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes, highlighting its critical message for our lives and our work, and our need for honest reflection on both. The Solomonic “preacher” of Ecclesiastes says that “under the sun”—life without reference or relationship to a transcendent God—is “vanity,” empty of sense, reason, hope, or purpose. If this world is truly “all there is,” then we are indeed in trouble—and Ecclesiastes provides as honest and true a description of this truth as can be found.
There have been countless long days during my aerospace career where I plowed hard to get through all the responsibilities and tasks. And yet sometimes, when I reached the end of the day, all that was left was a deep sigh. Is this all there is to this job?
Let God transform the list of things you dislike about your job into the reasons God has called you there.
In light of Genesis 3, we can understand such frustration; it sets the stage for problems we encounter throughout our lives and, particularly, our work. God has intentionally cursed the world to remind us of our rebellion against him and our need for reconciliation with him, each other, and his world.
Here are six ways God responded to humanity’s rejection of him in Eden.
1. An Enemy
God promised that the world will include spiritual enemies seeking our harm (Gen. 3:15). Evil will exist, and we will be prone to hear and believe deceptive lies about ourselves, the world, and the value and role of work in our lives.
False promises of ultimate satisfaction from our work are whispered into our ears from the enemy.
2. Alienated Relationships
Trust and mutual support with God and each other have also been lost. Misdirected blame and self-interest entered the scene (Gen. 3:12) and are now commonplace.
Our relationships with each other at work seem naturally vulnerable to problems, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Who hasn’t experienced difficulties with co-workers, bosses, clients, or suppliers?
Suffering, whether emotional or physical, is now part of the deal (Gen. 3:16–17). Our labor causes pain and injury.
Even traditionally “safe” office work environments require regular attention to things like adequate ergonomic workstations and protections from abuse and harassment. Carpal tunnel injuries and work-related physical and mental stress typify many office environments.
4. A Resistant World
Creation itself, including all the institutions humanity has formed, resists our best efforts to apply ourselves and produce good and useful work (Gen. 3:17–19). As much progress as we’ve made in sophisticated technology, innovation, and industry, we still experience deep difficulties in our daily labor.
Inflated bureaucracies, inefficient processes, outside disruptions, scarcity of resources, insoluble problems, and ineffective leadership—regardless of our skill level and personal efficiency—all remind us that our work sometimes just doesn’t want to cooperate.
The ultimate disrupter of work is death itself (Gen. 3:19). Decay, sickness, and death (even more so than taxes!) are guaranteed. The longer you work, the more this becomes a regular theme.
I’ve experienced the death of three employees over the years who were under my management; nothing intrudes on the workplace like the trauma and loss when a dear colleague passes away.
6. Hiddenness of God
God removed Adam and Eve from the garden out of compassion, so they would know the consequences of life apart from intimate communion and trust with him, and would have the opportunity to be redeemed (Gen. 3:22–24). The angst and longing of Ecclesiastes is a direct consequence of both our rejection of God and also his removal of us from his intimate presence. Our lives and work beg for the meaning and restoration that would be always present if we had direct access to God’s face-to-face presence in a perfect world.
So when you get to the end of a long work day and feel that heavy sigh coming, remember your Maker, who transcends “life under the sun.” He created today with purpose, even in all its challenges, tasks, and “unfinishedness.” Though God seems far away at times, by faith we know he draws close and cares for all who seek him. Take your angst to him and let him bear its weight as only he is able.
And remember that though our work will always bear the marks of a fallen world, it is also a call for us to enter into God’s renewing work. Let God transform the list of things you dislike about your job into the reasons God has called you there. Love your broken world, care for your coworkers’ good, seek the flourishing of your work environment, and let God use your modest efforts to bless—and bring a glimpse of his kingdom into—the place he has called you.