The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Many of us work without thinking much about it. We were raised to be workers. We were schooled to be workers. We know that work is necessary to pay for food and shelter. Many people in our lives count on us to work. So we work. We work without taking much time to reflect on the nature of our work or how our work relates to God and his intentions for us.
But, increasingly, this unexamined life of work fails to satisfy. Many in my generation (Boomers) are looking for greater significance in life and are wondering how work may or may not be a part of this picture. Folk from younger generations than mine often assume that their work should have value beyond professional success and financial gain. They want work to be personally meaningful and socially beneficial. Thus, people from various generations are thinking about work, what it is, why it is, and how we should do it.
Genesis 2:15 offers a fascinating perspective that can help us think about our work creatively. This verse says that God put the man in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.” As we have seen in recent reflections, the Hebrew verb translated as “till” most literally means “serve.” It suggests hard work, the kind of work done by a servant. It also is language used elsewhere in Scripture for serving God. The verb translated as “keep” could also be rendered “guard, protect, preserve, or care for.” So, we might say that work in Genesis 2:15 is a matter of productivity (tilling) and responsibility (keep). By tilling, we help the garden to produce fruit. By keeping, we make sure the garden is not hurt but is preserved so it can be sustainably fruitful.
Our work can also be seen in terms of tilling and keeping. There is a tilling feature of our work, whereby we labor so that good things will be produced (valuable products, social benefits, educated students, livelihood for workers, etc). We work in order to be productive. And there is also a keeping aspect to our work, in that we are responsible in varying degrees for the organizations, systems, locations, tools, and communities in which we work. I am not suggesting that tilling and keeping cover all aspects of our work. But these two verbs, considered metaphorically, may help us to think about our work in new ways. They may show us things we have not seen about our work, both encouraging and challenging us to work in new ways or with new intentions.
As I ponder my own work, I am struck by the fact that God has made me a tiller and a keeper. God has called me to be productive and responsible. The Max De Pree Center for Leadership, of which I am the executive director, needs to produce valuable resources so as to serve leaders in diverse realms. My job, in part, is to see that this happens. Yet, I am also charged with caring for the organization, including its people and core values. Plus, as I shared in the devotional from last Saturday, I am also responsible for preserving the legacy of Max De Pree, so that his wisdom may be passed on to others for generations to come.
May God empower you today to be a tiller and a keeper in your work, for his purposes and glory.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Does the tiller-keeper perspective on work make sense for what you do in life? How?
What does this perspective highlight about your work that you might otherwise have missed?
Is your work, in general, more about tilling or keeping? Why?
How might you be a tiller and keeper today?
Gracious God, thank you for placing us on earth and giving us such a key role in your plans. Thank you for making us tillers and keepers. Help us to work hard and faithfully, so that we might be productive in our labors. Help us also to be responsible for what has been entrusted to us, guarding it as needed and caring for it in a faithful way.
May I honor you in my work today, in all that I do as a tiller and a keeper. Amen.