It is legitimate to view the Garden of Eden as the first civilizational pilot project. Human beings were made in innocence and, whilst without sin, they were not mature, or perfected. Our first parents were placed in the garden as priest-kings in God’s cosmic temple, called to cultivate creation and turn it into God’s fruitful kingdom. We know from Scripture that Eden was a fertile region, rich in natural resources. But it would be a mistake to assume that it was a ready-made idyllic setting, complete with paths, ornamental gardens, gazeboes and trimmed hedges. The fact that Eden required cultivation meant work!
Adam’s task was to develop the resources of the earth, till and prune the garden, and classify the animals – in short to care for and steward the creation as God’s image-bearer. Moreover, we should not forget that Adam was made untrained and wasn’t given a box of tools by Black and Decker to get him going. Being in an unfallen condition, his mind and body were doubtless much more capable than ours, and so he was able to accomplish the tasks God assigned him with alacrity.
Immediately then Adam would have faced problems and challenges. The Edenic region contained all manner of wild animals that could quickly reduce fruit trees and vegetables to nothing, so there was a sense of urgency to his task, the price of food being constant vigilance. Not only so, he was naked and without an abode at a time when a heavy dew watered the earth nightly – he thus would have needed to construct a shelter of some sort if he was to stay on the right side of his wife. The point being, Adam’s life immediately involved real work. Tests of resourcefulness, invention and creativity were necessary so that man might use and develop his ability and calling to exercise dominion. To obey God and walk with God in this calling was what constituted holiness – to be set apart for God’s purpose.
In an important sense, then, human beings were called to develop the earth to create all kinds of wealth and riches that lay hidden and undeveloped in creation. This development was not and is not easy. There are three ways by which wealth can be built: hard work, inheritance, or theft. When we consider Adam and Eve we notice that they inherited a magnificent estate from God himself, and so they were heirs. If what they inherited was to be improved, grow and flourish they had to work with their minds and hands to make tools, fencing, shelter etc.
Theft has never been part of God’s purpose for creation. Yet we see today that in sinful man, theft is the most popular means of wealth acquisition, from petty theft to grand government schemes for expropriation of wealth for redistribution. The essential premise behind all theft is entitlement. As such theft, at root, is the avoidance of work – which was man’s calling – it is a refusal of a life of holiness.
So then, God’s legitimate and intended means for wealth creation for our first parents were inheritance and work. God had provided all the ingredients, but he made work mandatory even in the pre-fallen world. Every Christian should remember this critical scriptural principle; it is behind Paul’s injunction that if a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
Since the original family (the married pair of Adam and Eve) were given an inheritance and called to work as God’s stewards, there is obviously a deep connection between the present assault on the creational structures of marriage and family and the attack on wealth, productivity and inheritance.
The family is the God-ordained foundational social and economic unit, and revolution against God’s order inevitably involves a sustained attack against both as involved in each other. All forms of Marxist and culturally Marxist critiques of culture involve this foundational assault on God’s creational order in support of theft over inheritance and hard work, with the family depicted as the centre of evil and economic oppression. However, man cannot, by his own fiat word and political planning speak wealth into being or bypass hard work or inheritance; such attempts lead only to self-destruction, oppression, theft and murder.
Of course we don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the Garden prior to the temptation, but the fact that work was part of the deal from the beginning perhaps helps us to understand why they were susceptible to the nature of the temptation; perhaps there was a shortcut to wisdom, wealth, satisfaction and power without work after all – a secret key in the autonomous definition of good and evil with man’s fiat word replacing God’s.
Yet the reality from the beginning of time has been the same, both before and after the fall – creational reality governs who we are as men and women whether we resist it or not. If we live in rebellion against God’s Word revelation we do not bring blessing, but only ruin, on ourselves and our environment. Indeed, even if fallen man succeeds in his work, it is accompanied by deep frustration and a sense of futility when not carried out in terms of God’s dominion calling, to worship and to serve.
Since the beginning, man was called to cultivate God's creation into a godly civilization, this involved work, and only work done in obedience to God can bring blessing, while work done in rebellion reaps futility and frustration.