Designed to Work: Made in God’s Image—A Post from Bob Robinson

Hands.

Hands that can hold a wrench or a paintbrush or a guitar or a scalpel or a child.

Eyes.

Eyes that can look through a telescope to study the glory of the heavens and through a microscope to investigate the intricacies of cells. Eyes that can gaze upon that which is beautiful and that which is ugly. Eyes that can see what is right and what needs to be corrected.

Ears. Toes. Biceps. Knees. Nostrils.

In the beginning there was God, designing a world that he deemed “very good” (Genesis 1:31). And at the pinnacle of this amazing creation were the human beings. Designed by God for amazing and various tasks. Designed by God for His glory.

Yes, human beings are glorious creatures. We are glorious because we reflect the glory of God, who said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26).

Over against the novel idea that we need to find our self-esteem and find affirmation about how great we are, the Bible says we inherently have dignity because we have been made to reflect God as image bearers. This is both an ennobling thing and a humbling thing, for the glory of being a human being is a derived glory. It shines only because God made us this way, and it is spectacular only because it is a reflection of God.

The Image of God

For centuries, there has been a lot of speculation on what this “image and likeness” means—some say it is our ability to reason, others say it is our ability to relate to one another. Could be. Probably these are major parts of what it means.

But what does the actual text say? According to Genesis 1:28, the image of God looks like a job description!

  1. Be fruitful and increase in number
  2. Fill the earth
  3. Subdue and rule the earth

First, we are designed to be fruitful in making babies and thus making communities of people, living together in flourishing relationships. In other words, reflecting the triune God, we are to relate with each other, lovingly providing for each other’s needs. Families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and customers. Neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, nations, and the world.

I need to contemplate my relationships for a moment. How am I nurturing them, making space for connections, for hospitality, for conversations? How am I seeking the welfare of the community in which God has placed me (see Jer. 29:7)?

Second, we were designed to fill the earth with our cultural goods, making stuff from the raw material that God has so graciously created. In other words, we are to reflect the creator God by creating stuff ourselves. The whole earth is filled with God’s glory—all we need to do is look around us at the marvels of his creation. Now God tells us to fill the earth as well. And as we do so, the earth is filled with even more of his glory.

Therefore, I need to remember that my work has deep significance. When I contribute to culture by working to provide goods and services, I am reflecting the good Creator of all things, filling the earth with the good things that provide for those around me. How am I participating with God in bringing blessing to others through my work? How is my work a very practical means to love my neighbor?

Third, we are designed to subdue and rule the earth, to place it under our benevolent control. In other words, God makes us his vice-regents in charge of his good creation. But rather than doing what humans often do, we are not to exploit it; we are to “cultivate and care for it” (see Gen. 2:15). And the good creation is not merely limited to the natural beauty of birds and trees, sea and fish, and mountains and elk. The good creation is also all the things that God has dialed into the world—families, business, education, government, entertainment, etc. God is the Lord of it all and has placed us in charge under his rule.

How am I doing in this task of watching over the things of this world? What can I do to see God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Where I see things that are good, beautiful, and right, how can I help these things develop and be sustained? Where I see things that are wrong, unjust, or sinful, what is God calling me to do about it?

Designed to Work: From Architects to Computer Technicians to Farmers

So it is a very practical thing, this image of God in mankind. We see it play out in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of people, in all sorts of fields.

Take David Greusel, for example. He’s an architect that has figured out how his gift for design reflects God’s glory. David writes,

What does redeemed architecture look like? Does it have Bible verses encoded in the decoration? Scrolls of scripture hidden in the mortar joints? I think not. To my way of thinking, redemptive design seeks the good of the city, and of the people in the city, whether they live or work in the building or not. This means the building has to be a good neighbor, reinforcing the street and not alienating passers-by. It should promote human flourishing, whether as a place of dwelling, work, or recreation, and help people to be, in Andy Crouch’s phrase, most gloriously themselves. And regardless of its use, it should point to a higher reality, not with encoded Bible verses, but with excellence in design and craft. (“Designed to Work: Redeeming Architecture” by David Greusel)

Or look over at Mike Wittmer’s friend Jordan, a computer technician. As Mike observed this young Christian man in his work, juggling the task of fixing the computer in front of him while fielding phone calls for tech support, he is in awe.

Jordan’s job contributes to this larger endeavor. His behind the scenes role supports the technology that enables others to make something of the world … He never lost his composure through the entire ordeal. He exuded patience, the fruit of the Spirit that takes the longest to ripen, and so showed that he has been walking with Jesus for a long time. (“Designed to Work: What Do You Make Possible?” by Mike Wittmer)

And then there’s Billy Coffey’s story of farmers Clive and Darrell Howard, father and son. Darrell has decided that the life of farming is not what he wants, so he plans, “The university first, and then a proper job. Someplace in the city. Downtown, with a view of the skyline instead of the ridgeline. Suits instead of coveralls. Early retirement. The country club.” Clive wants the best for Darrell, but he worries that Darrell has not grasped the goodness of God’s design for hard work. He wants his son to experience how work, in and of itself, brings purpose.

It isn’t that he views his son’s goals as less than the life Darrell had been born into. Whether sitting in a corner office or plowing the back forty, so long as Darrell works, Clive will be happy. Work itself is Clive’s concern, and not specifically on the farm. What place will work have in the life of his son? That’s what Clive Howard wonders.(“Designed to Work: Are We Meant for Toil?” by Billy Coffey)

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Bob Robinson is a writer, speaker, mistake repeater, forgetful husband, silly father, and depender on grace and mercy. He consults with (re)integrate, he ministers with CCO, and he edits with The High Calling, where the above post originally appeared as part of a blog series entitled “Designed for Work” (see below) Read more of Bob’s work at www.re-integrate.org/magazine. Follow his tweets @Bob_Robinson_re.

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Designed to Work

“We are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together, backs to the sun. The question is a hoe in our hands and we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives.” Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Work is not a curse. Before the Fall, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and invited them to participate with him by cultivating the earth and tilling the soil and coaxing seedlings to find the sun. Our work is one way we participate in restoration. We were designed to work, and our good work is worship. In this series, Designed to Work, we’ll explore together and celebrate the gift of work, given to us by a God who loves us deeply.

Drilling Down beneath the Root Cellar—A Poem from the Faith And Work Conference

Most people don’t know, but I’ve been writing poetry since high school.

I’ve never been prolific with my poems; I’m not a poem-a-day sort of person (perhaps because I’m an introvert), and I’ve certainly had some dry years along the way.

But taking classes at the local Writers and Books in Rochester on and off over the last few years (especially with Jake Rakovan) has tapped into something fermenting beneath the surface.

In response to a few requests (actually very few), I’m considering posting some of my poems.

In a later post I may share some of the poems that bubbled up in Jake’s courses at Writers and Books, including a course he taught on Dante’s Inferno called “Writing Your Way Through Hell.”

But here is my latest poem, written in response to a time of guided meditation at the end of the Faith and Work conference in NYC I just attended. I scribbled most of it down on the spot, then edited it later.

Root Cellar

Drilling down beneath the root cellar of my soul,
I caught a glint of some deep glow,
pulsing and rising
up through the dark.

As its approached I turned to flee, but
luscious with love,
wrinkled hands enfolded despair,
soothing the dried-up grief
of barren days and nights of pain.

The beam refracted,
sparking into ruby and sapphire,
emerald and diamond,
bursting through the termite-infested floor,
to crack a granite heart
and melt the stalactite stratagems
of endless limestone sorrow.

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As you can see, the conference affected me at a deep, existential level.

Depending on interest, I’ll consider posting more of my poetry sometime.

My Experience of The Faith and Work Conference in NYC

I was a bit apprehensive about the conference I was to speak at last weekend (November 7-8), sponsored by the Center for Faith and Work (the cultural renewal arm of Redeemer Presbyterian Church) in New York City. It’s such a famous church, and the line-up of speakers was impressive, with a very large crowd expected. So I anticipated a high-powered, somewhat elitist event, where I might feel out of place.

Plus, the conference was focused on New York City, whose population of over eight million can seem overwhelming to someone from an island of less than three million souls, who has bounced around Canada a bit, and now lives in Rochester (upstate New York).

Thankfully, all my fears were laid to rest. I not only enjoyed the conference, I ended up being profoundly moved by the entire experience.

The conference started Friday evening (November 7), with an introduction by David Kim, the executive director of the Center for Faith and Work.

The Speakers

Following the introduction, Margaret Newman, from the Municipal Art society of New York, gave a talk on recent changes in public space in the city and projections for the future (which tied in with the conference theme of “Making All Things New: Imagination and Innovation Required”). Then Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer, presented a thoughtful theological grounding of the conference in God’s creative and redeeming grace. This was followed by a Q&A with Keller and Newman, led by Kim.

My own talk (called “A Sacred Call for Sacred Work”) kicked off the Saturday morning session (November 8). Drawing on my work on humans as the image of God, especially my more recent sacramental take on the subject (emphasizing the priestly side of the imago Dei), I tried to weave a biblical picture of ordinary life (including work) as worship rendered to God in the cosmic sanctuary of creation. Then (having done my “duty”) I was able to relax and immerse myself in the rest of the day’s activities.

I heard a variety of other speakers on Saturday, including Dave Evans, Adam Wade, Nancy Ortberg, Robyn Shapiro, Christian Wiman, and David Brooks.

Leadership consultant Nancy Ortberg spoke on the importance of collaboration in innovation; storyteller Adam Wade kept us entranced with a tale of his teenage years with his idiosyncratic Greek yiayia (grandmother) and her sister; Christian Wiman, past editor of Poetry magazine, read some of his poems and reflected on the role of faith in the the creative process; and Robyn Shapiro shared her vision of an innovative underground park in NYC (the Lowline) lit by solar technology.

I was particularly intrigued with Dave Evans‘s application of his training in design to courses he now teaches at Stanford in which he helps students design their life. The principles he articulated are things I want to follow up on.

And I found David Brooks‘s reflections on the dialectic between “resume virtues” (required for success in the world) and “euology virtues” (the substantial values people embody) especially thoughtful; as a writer myself, I appreciated the way he applied this dialectic to his own vocation of writing.

Other Activities

Throughout the weekend there was a commissioned video documentary on a young man’s incarceration, an intimate ballet performance (in the middle of the audience), and an LED light show accompanying an avant garde string quartet (playing Sufjan Steven’s recent music).

On Saturday afternoon there was an expo of innovative start-ups in NYC, all in one large carnivalesque room.

I was involved in an afternoon Q&A about my talk, one of more than two dozen simultaneous sessions in the expo—the noise level was crazy, but it seemed like the day of Pentecost to me.

To top it off, I had long and wonderful conversations about theology, spirituality, life, and work with a variety of people at different points throughout the day (and into the evening).

At one point even David Brooks fooled around with conference organizer David Kim.

Throughout my time at the conference I was impressed by the organizers and behind-the-scenes people I interacted with. David Kim, Dasha Rettew, and the entire team consistently exhibited a blend of high professionalism and honest, personal vulnerability (I haven’t always found those together). This set the tone for the entire experience.

The conference ended with communal worship and a guided reflection time by David Kim.

The entire experience (perhaps prompted by Christian Wiman’s poetry) led me to write a poem in the reflection time, which I’ve posted as a follow-up.