As a young married couple in the Summer of 1973, Jill and I had just returned to Seattle from an exhilarating one-year adventure. We had lived in a Christian community right in the middle of the hippies in Isla Vista, California, the location of the Santa Barbara branch of the University of California, UCSB. We had rented out our house in the University District in Seattle while we were gone and now, with 2.5 children—our daughter Ramah would be born that Fall—we were headed for the suburbs. Our U-District house had no yard, and we needed space for our growing family.
After we were fully moved in and firmly ensconced in our new, spacious home, I went to meet our new neighbors. Next door lived a young family about like ours. As I got acquainted with the father, I discovered he was a fireman. I will never forget his answer to my question, “Why did you become a fireman?” His answer was: ”The Fire Department has a great retirement plan.”
I wondered about his answer. Was the goal of his life really to be well taken care of in retirement? Probably not, but we can safely say that it certainly was not to find his fulfillment during his life in his work! Preparing to care for himself and his family when he can no longer work is a wise and prudent thing to do, but I am sure that he sought a reason for living somewhere else—in his family, recreation, hobbies, etc. At least, we could probably safely say he was not a workaholic on his job.
Have you ever thought about retirement? What is your attitude about it? Are you anticipating not having to work and getting to do exactly what you want to do every day?
As one with some personal experience with this topic, I want to share my perspective on what the Bible teaches about the idea of freedom from having to work to provide for yourself and those you love.
Work is not a result of the Fall. Adam and Eve were given by God the job of caring for the entire Garden of Eden, just the two of them, before the Fall, and it appears from its description in the Bible that the Garden was a huge tract of land. We don’t know their human capacities pre-Fall, but, in any case, the job God gave them was significant and demanded that they be proficient in both animal husbandry and horticulture.
However, how we work was greatly affected by the Fall. Expelled from the Garden, Adam and Eve would, from that time forward, still work, but with significant changes. God cursed the earth, and it would no longer willingly yield its fruit for man’s provision, but now only grudgingly, through man’s diligent effort: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. From dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Notice God told Adam that the curse on the earth, resulting in now making a living extremely difficult and demanding for us, was done “for your sake,” and thorns and thistles grew up specifically “for you.” Thanks a lot, Lord! Why in the world did You do that?”
The earth was created to be ruled (cared for, maintained, managed) by man as God’s vice-regent—he would rule for Him, just as God Himself would rule if He were on site physically. However, Adam and Eve rebelled and joined forces with the enemy, and It appeared that God’s plan was thwarted.
Now man’s rule (he would still rule, as he was uniquely made to do) would be temporary (no eating of the Tree of Life in the Garden), difficult (God saw to that with the thistles and thorns), and for a different “god,” (the “god of this world”), Satan. There can now be no permanent satisfaction in man’s work. How could there be when it has its source in rebellion against God? No wonder we are eager for retirement!
But God never lost sight of His great eternal purpose for man that we reference constantly in Genesis 1:26, and He is ever-moving toward that glorious result: that we rule for Him, just as He would rule, bearing His image so we will look like Him as we do so. The end result is that there will be no doubt who is Lord of all.
At the cross, this restoration phase of the plan was implemented as we were reconciled back to God. In the process we were placed “in Christ,” no longer failed rulers in Adam (my “old man”), ruling as Satan led us, but now victorious ones “in Christ” (my “new man”), ruling as God leads us.
Furthermore, at Pentecost, the Creator God, who directed Adam and Eve in their work in the Garden from outside them with verbal commands, now came inside man to live by His Holy Spirit, now directing him from within. Jesus clearly taught the disciples this truth in John 14:20: At that day (Pentecost) you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
Restoration is complete. We are now ready to exercise our God-ordained task Adam and Eve abdicated: God’s eternal purpose for man—to rule over the earth for Him. Motivated and empowered by the Spirit within (Philippians 2:13), with the vision clearly before us (Genesis 1:26), we are ready to assault the gates of Hell that Jesus promises will not prevail against our attack (Matthew 16:18).
Anybody ready to retire from that task? Anticipating retirement from the old job we inherited from Adam is very understandable, but from the new vocation of ruling over the responsibilities God has given me here on the earth, the job we were created to do, now motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Does that no warrant a second look, particularly when there is no compulsory retirement age?
Next week I want to share what this means practically and what I have experienced personally as I have struggled with God’s renewal of my mind regarding retirement.