Blog - Doing Earthwork
The Parable of the Missing MandateFriday, November 07, 2014
A graduate student in my online theology-of-work class asked
why the sacred-secular divide is still so prevalent. Why in church circles, he
wondered, is the "Creation Mandate” (that human beings rule over the earth,
Gen. 1:26) emphasized so little, if at all, while the Great Commission (Matt.
28:19-20) receives so much attention?
An important question. Perhaps this brief parable will clarify:
A landowner sent his employees out from his farmhouse to look after his ranch. Their assignments varied greatly. Some were to plant, some to irrigate, others to fertilize, and so on. However, a steep cliff lay between the farmhouse and the fields. As they descended down the precipitous path, all the employees fell and sustained disabling injuries.
The landowner did not cancel his first assignment to care for his land. But the situation called for a new work order. First he had to get medical help down to his wounded employees. Once restored, they were to go about the work originally given to them. The employees—forever grateful for their recovery—set up a hospital at the base of the cliff to provide for others who had fallen. As time passed, they gave less and less attention to work in the fields, while pouring more and more energy into hospital work. Eventually, field work seemed unimportant and serving in the hospital came to be seen as the only thing that mattered. The harvests from the fields, of course, suffered greatly.
In light of the sin that disabled us all, the commission in Matthew is necessary to restore us to working order. But once we’re made well through faith in Christ, the commission in Genesis still sends us into the workplace. Timewise, the work of the Great Commission must be done first in each of us to deal with our disability. But the work of the Creation Mandate remains as important as ever to God. Now, we are to do the work of each commission without neglecting the other.
If we examine the Great Commission closely, we’ll see that it points us back to that first commission in the Creation Mandate. As Jesus put it, making disciples includes "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That everything surely includes the scriptural command to rule over the earth—which we carry out primarily through our daily work.