Blog - Grasping Vocation

Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 4

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Why Work?” asks British writer Dorothy Sayers in the title of an essay. How you answer that two-word question is crucial. Many look to Genesis 3:17-19 for the answer: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground. . . ."

The wrong interpretation of these verses and the disabling result both show up in a study note in The Word in Life Study Bible: “One of the most stubborn myths in Western culture is that God imposed work as a curse to punish Adam and Eve's sin. As a result, some people view work as something evil.”

The work-as-punishment-for-sin teaching adds one truth to another truth—and reaches the wrong idea. First truth: Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the tree God had put off limits. Second truth: God responded by evicting them from the Garden of Eden and by promising painful toil. Wrong conclusion: God assigned work as punishment for human sin.

This warped old concept still makes its rounds. A much-read blogger recently wrote: “…work began when Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise. That Adam and his descendants have had to eat their bread in the sweat of their brow is a punishment for sin…”

Another blogger: “. . . according to our cultural roots, work is a curse, a punishment for original sin, and only for slaves. In short, . . . work is hell, and we must endure it because we're all sinners.”

Trevor Francis, President of Fiberhaus, a global telecommunications firm, observes: “People look upon their work as punishment for who they are and where they stand in the world…”

Back when I was in school, teachers often assigned work as punishment: “Okay—I saw you chewing that gum. After you spit it into the wastebasket, I want you to go to the chalkboard and write, ‘I will not chew gum in class,' 500 times.” Hmmm. Where have so many learned to hate writing?

Might the punishment idea reinforce negative attitudes toward work? An ABC News report of January 5, 2010, referred to “…a new survey that found only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. That was the lowest level ever recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue." If you think of your work as part of God's curse for sin, it will give you one more reason to hate your job—or to do it less than wholeheartedly (see Eph. 6:5-8). In Part 5, we'll look at the most basic biblical answer to the question, “Why Work?”

Have you heard the work-as-punishment idea? If so, where did you hear it? And how has it affected you?

Comments (1)

Jack Lovern (5/30/2010 10:00:32 PM)
Hi Larry,

Rather than a curse, I find work therapeutic. Particularly therapeutic is digging in the dirt in the garden. It must be a residual of Adam’s DNA!

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