- PARTICIPATION IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS AS WORK AMONG AN INCOMPLETE CREATION
Work is not worship in Jewish thought. This assertion is contrary to many well-meaning Christians belief in our day and age, but it not a true statement. Jewish wisdom grants us a differing view, which is a perception that has its roots in the Garden’s Fall and humanity’s call to take dominion. The top priority of ancient Jewish thought on economic matters begins with a belief that humanity was designed by God to be participants in the divine process of creation. Judaism advances the idea that God created an incomplete world, giving people the responsibility to aid in the perfection of the world by taking dominion of the earth’s natural resources, laboring with God, and by becoming innovative as we look for solutions for the world’s problems and people. Judaic theology interprets humanity’s carrying the divine image to mean that God is the creator of the universe, while people are the creators of the world.
Jewish economics primary tenet is based on Genesis’ proclamation that man is created in the imagio dei, or divine image, which gives us the ability to continue the work of creation. The biblical passage found in Genesis 1:26-28 advances this thought. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over [g]all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Humanities ability to take dominion isn’t found in regaining lost authority or abrogated power. In the eyes of the Jewish perspective, dominion is seen in cooperating with YHWH in continuing creation until the creative process ends. Midrashic wisdom declares that “All that was created during the six days that God created the world still requires work” (Genesis Rabba 11:6). The assumption that we can derive from the Talmud is that humanity received the essence of the divine so that humans could partner with God in the creative act that is put on display through our participation in our labor or work (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 10a).
We need to embrace the concept that work is not worship in Jewish thought. Work is partnering with God to continue the creative process of creation that is yet to be completed. The Midrash borrows the inclusion of the Genesis injunction when it points out the story of Rabbi Akiva who presented a General with grain and bread and asked what his preference was to eat (Tanhuma Tazriah 19). The point was made that in Judaic faith, work and creative activity combine with innovation for the divine imaging to see. If the General chose the bread, he cheated himself of the joy that work produces as we can take pride in our labor. The correct answer to the riddle is to choose the grain and then turn it into bread, as the process of creating grain into bread works in the imagio dei.
Ed Silvoso has presented us with the idea that every Christian is a minister, and labor is worship. This error is seen in Silvoso’s assertion that every Christian is a minister and their labor is worship. I agree with Silvoso on the ministry front, but I do think it would be better to change the wording and emphasis. I think it is better to say that every Christian has the capability to minister. Everyone who names the name of Christ does not act ministerially, nor is everyone equipped in equal fashion. This is an essential consideration in the equation. I think that it is ironic that we are addressing these issues while conversely discussing the death of Billy Graham, the quintessential evangelist who rose above the amoral systems of this world to take the message of Jesus Christ to more people than anyone in the history of the church.
As I have stated, I do have an issue with the statement that labor is worship. Labor can include worship, but labor is not worship. Labor is a duty. This lines up with the Jewish idea that we participate with God in creation. We are admonished to work, or we will not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Jesus said that the laborer is worthy to be hired (Luke 10:7). Paul repeats this edict in 1 Timothy 5:18, which is based on the Law in Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:15. We are all encouraged to do whatever it is that we do as if it is unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Paul’s exhortation includes labor, but it applies to multiple aspects of our lives. Using Occam’s Razor as a philosophical assertion doesn’t always work, which is what Silvoso tries to do with his thoughts. It creates problems of continuity and credibility.
I contend that humanity is still fulfilling the original mandate to take dominion and subjugate the earth and its biosphere. What changed in the Garden wasn’t the mandate, it was religious allegiance, as satan (sic) became the god of this world. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that satan (sic) is the deceiver in whom the god of this age did blind the minds of the unbelieving, that there doth not shine forth to them the enlightening of the good news of the glory of the Christ, who is the image of God. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent (2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3, Young & NLT). satan (sic) rules this present evil age as the god of the age. Technically he does have dominion through his minions, those who worship him outright or through allegiance in the systems of this world that he dominates, but this is a secondary application and is not a primary injunction or mandate.