Michelangelo, the Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, is remembered for his masterpieces, including the frescoes that cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. But his admirers might forget that his art required an incredible amount of painstaking work. Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”
Work can be rewarding, but it can also be just plain hard! The story of creation reveals God’s design for work. God Himself worked at Creation. The text says that God “finished the work he had been doing” (Gen. 2:2). And God also designed that man, created in His image, would work. He placed man in the Garden to care for it (2:15). Adam’s task would be one of caretaking for the garden and he would rule over, or care for, the animals (1:26).
In today’s passage, we see the fall out from the decision of Adam and Eve to disobey God and His design for their lives. Eve would endure the pain of childbirth (3:16). Adam’s curse would transform his work into “toil” (v. 17).
Bearing children and working were both a part of God’s original design. Both of these are intended to be good, intrinsic elements of human flourishing. But now those activities were affected by the Fall. Childbirth became laborious. Work became toil. The ground would be thorny instead of fruitful (vv. 18–19).
After God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, they would need to “work the ground from which he had been taken” (v. 23). Life would no longer be simple and pleasurable but strenuous and often difficult. Work, like childbearing, remained part of God’s design for humanity, but sin made it backbreaking.