Blog - Doing Earthwork

These Hands are Made for Working

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Recently my wife and I attended a concert in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. Ten grand pianos sat on the multi-level stage. An equal number of magnificently gifted pianists sat on the piano benches. As I listened, I found myself worshiping—not worshiping the musical artists but worshiping the God who had created human hands capable of making such music.

"The characteristic common to God and man is apparently . . . the desire and the ability to make things.” So wrote Dorothy Sayers, the British writer, in 1941. And for both God (Ps. 19:1) and us (Prov. 12:14), the Bible describes the work of making things as the "the work of his hands.”

God’s "hands,” of course, are figurative; ours literal and physical. Try for a moment to think of any human work that does not involve hands. Intellectual work? We distinguish manual work from mental. But even sophisticated brain work almost always involves the hands. An exhibit in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford University is Einstein’s Blackboard. How much would we know of his genius apart from what his hands did with chalk and pencils? The movie about the work of brain surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, is called Gifted Hands.

And, with few exceptions, hand work engages the mind. In Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford, with a doctorate in political philosophy, tells of having taken "a job as executive director of a ‘think tank’.” Five months into it, he quit to open a motorcycle repair shop. "I often find manual work more engaging intellectually,” he says.

Think of your own work. How well could you carry it out if you had no hands? Your opposable thumb and those fingers do far more than just grip things. By way of nerves, they receive signals from the brain. I sat in amazement as I considered the sheer volume and speed of the brain-to-hand signals of those ten pianists. At the same time fingers and thumb are receiving instructions, they are getting back to the brain with information about light/heavy, hot/cold, hard/soft, wet/dry, pain/comfort, and so on.

Why were we created? To worship? Yes, but also to work. And the two can take place together. We can offer our work as worship. Eph. 2:10 says God has created us in Christ "to do good works.” And because God made us to work, he gave us hands. We are not to worship the work of our hands (Is. 2:8). But the hands doing that work can lead us to worship the One who made them. As I experienced listening to those ten grand pianos.

In his poem, "Creation’s Lord, We Give Thee Thanks,” W. De Witt Hyde wrote:

Creation’s Lord, we give Thee thanks
That this Thy world is incomplete;
That battle calls our marshaled ranks,
That work awaits our hands and feet.

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