Biblical Consolation for Work Frustrations

We all have frustrations with work.  Work, in and of itself, is not a result of the curse in Genesis 3 since there is work prior to the fall.  Rather, “thorns” in the midst of our work are a result of the fall.  Yet, we are not without hope in the midst of the frustrations.  Timothy Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, explains some of the deep consolation in the midst of work’s frustrations:

Just because you cannot realize your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration.  That would be a fruitless search for anyone.  You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation (p. 94).

Because of the nature of God’s creation, we need work for our happiness.  And because of God’s intentions for our work – to contribute to the flourishing of the world – we have glimpses of what we could accomplish.  But because of the fall of the human race, our work is also profoundly frustrating, never as fruitful as we want, and often a complete failure.  This is why so many people inhabit the extremes of idealism and cynicism – or even ricochet back and forth between those poles.  Idealism says, “Through my work I am going to change things, make a difference, accomplish something new, bring justice to the world.” Cynicism says, “Nothing really changes.  Don’t get your hopes up.  Do what it takes to make a living. Don’t let yourself care too much.  Get out of it whatever you can.”

Genesis 3, verse 18 tells us not only that “thorns and thistles” will come out of the ground but also that “you will eat the plants of the field.” Thorns and food.  Work will still bear some fruit, though it will always fall short of its promise.  Work will be both frustrating and fulfilling, and sometimes – just often enough – human work gives us a glimpse of the beauty and genius that might have been the routine characteristic of all our work, and what, by the grace of God, it will be again in the new heavens and new earth (p. 95).

Christians have, through their hope in God’s story of redemption for the world he created, a deep consolation that enables them to work with all their being and never be ultimately discouraged by the frustrating present reality of this world, in which thorns grow up when they are trying to coax up other things.  We accept the fact that in this world our work will always fall short, just as sinners always “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) because we know that our work in this life is not the final word (p. 96).


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