Work dominates the first two chapters of the Bible. The first sentences of Scripture introduce us to a God at work. Soon after we are introduced to man, the image-bearer who works. It would be difficult to dispute that work is anything but integral to man. Believe it or not work, according to Scripture, is first and foremost gift. The curse of Genesis 3 that led to frustrating toil only makes sense if work was a wonderful privilege. Ecclesiastes is a very interesting book. Many have said that the writer of this book had Genesis 1-3 open before him as he wrote. This book is an extended meditation on life through the lens of the curse. The themes of vanity, chasing the wind, and emptiness come from an honest look at life lived under the sun.
I have always been intrigued by a particular paradox in this book regarding work. Over and over again the author laments the fact that so much of his labor is in vain. He says it is a chasing the wind because you cannot ultimately determine the outcome of your toil. He notes example after example of situations where the fruit of one’s labor is never experienced. If you read the book you will see this theme over and over again. So you read this and you feel it with the author and then he makes an offhanded comment like this: “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Ecc 3:12).
It seems the author is dispensing great wisdom to the working man through this paradox. He is showing us that work retains its status as gift. He is showing us that this gift has been affected by the curse. We live within this tension every day as we labor. More than that, he is showing us a creaturely posture in our work. As creatures we are incapable of determining the outcome of our work. The author is in agreement with James. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).
The ability to determine the end result of our labor requires foreknowledge, omnipotence, and sovereignty. These are attributes that creatures do not possess. They belong to God alone. The call of Ecclesiastes is to enter into the gift of work today without having to know its outcome. There is tremendous freedom here. My job is a gift of God for this day. My job is the provision of today to honor Christ and love my neighbor. This means my job will not be wasted if my desired outcome fails to come to pass. It is never a waste when we engage it as daily gift and work at it with all our might (Ecc 9:10). I really think there is something so helpful and practical here. What are your thoughts on work as gift? In what ways would you say that work is a gift from God? How does a theology of work impact our work for good or for ill? Look forward to hearing you.