The Problem of Work After the Fall

by Jonathan Haefs

*This is part two of the blog series: A Mini-Biblical-Theology of Work. Part 1 can be found here.

Have you ever attempted to use something for a task other than it was designed for and it turned out bad, frustrating, or even painful?

So… this one time I had friends over at my house once who were helping my brother and I pull weeds because as soon as that chore was done we could go play. Now I don’t know how it started, but in the midst of weed pulling someone got hit in the face with some dirt.

This led to an all out dirt war.

31c96-umbrellaAt one point, someone grabbed an umbrella. Maybe it was me or maybe it wasn’t…why assign blame? Anyway, that person brilliantly began using the umbrella as a shield against the onslaught of soil. The umbrella changed hands a few times and it ended up in the hands of one of my friends.

My younger brother charged him with a massive handful of dirt. So my friend naturally held up the umbrella to protect himself and one of the spokes caught my brother’s eyelid! Let’s just say he could close his eyes and still see.

The point is that using the umbrella for something it was never designed for brought much pain! We broke the umbrella’s purpose and, as a result, broke my brother’s face!

In the fall, Adam and Eve broke the very purpose of their God-given work and it brought pain! Adam and Eve’s occupation was to point to God! His greatness, goodness, and beauty! Their rebellion/sin was to make everything about their own greatness, goodness, and beauty.

They broke the purpose of their work and Genesis 3:17 reveals to us the painful result…

Genesis 3:17, “…to Adam [God] said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in PAIN you shall eat of it all the days of your life…

Not only did their sin bring pain, but also frustration! Using something for a task other than what it was designed for can often bring frustration. A few days ago, my little girl attempted to use the TV remote as a cell phone. This very quickly led to frustration! In breaking the purpose of their work, Adam and Eve’s sin did not only lead to pain, but also to frustration.

Genesis 3:18-19, “…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. [19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”


God said, work will be frustrating as the ground will fight you and eventually beat you! You will sweat as you war with the earth until it wins! You will die and you will become a part of the very ground you tried to work…dust.

All your work is futile!

Painful, frustrating work, that seems futile. This is the reality in which we all live and work! This is why our work is painful and frustrating. All of us approach our work through the lens of Genesis 3! We do this in two primary ways… by viewing our work primarily through the SIN of Genesis 3 or through the CURSE of Genesis 3.

Here’s what I mean… First, many of us view our work through the sin of Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve’s sin was choosing to make themselves like God. Instead of working for his glory, they chose to promote their own.  And this is what we do… we work for our own glory!

We look for satisfaction, joy, purpose, meaning, identity, etc in our work! And we don’t ever find it because satisfaction is always one more step away. We get a promotion, but it’s really the next promotion where we will find satisfaction. We get a raise, but it is really the next raise that will bring contentment. Just a little more recognition will bring joy.

…and the joy of glory is always one step beyond our grasp.

Instead of worshipping God through our work and pointing to his glory, we use it as a means to worship ourselves and promote our own glory. Our work consumes us, making us crazy as it becomes our everything! Our very identity and worth is completely wrapped up in our job.


This is one of the primary ways we approach work as a result of the fall. We view our work through the sin of Genesis 3 and we worship work. Our job becomes our everything.

Yet, there is a second common approach to work.  Many of us view our work through the curse of Genesis 3. We look at work and see it as nothing but painful, frustrating, and futile.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, [19] and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.”

The author of Ecclesiastes, laments that he has spent his whole life working and for what?  He says it all amounts to nothing in the end! It’s futile. Death will take away everything we have “gained” through all our toil! Even what we leave behind to be enjoyed by our heirs may only be wasted. Everything seemingly comes to nothing!

All our work and toil ultimately feels pointless, and many of us can, primarily, view our work this way.  So, we end up wasting our work. We are lazy in it, because ultimately… work is nothing.

After the fall… work looks mostly like a problem. We either view it through the sin of Genesis 3. We worship work because it is everything! Or we view it through the curse of Genesis 3. We waste work because it is nothing.

Woman asleep at computer

We know this is not how it was created to be! Is there any hope or are we doomed to pain, frustration, and futility in our work?

That is the question we will tackle tomorrow…