Working The Ground For Food
You would have thought that after a really crazy week of late nights negotiating until your anhs and khuns get addressed to the wrong nationalities, overnighters accompanied by the glow of the Shell refinery burning on Pulau Bukom, that there might be a trustworthy place to feed a nutrition-deprived digestive system with comfort food.
We’d previously enjoyed the food at Le Bistrot. Lee Chin Sin’s been dishing up good French stuff since its Joo Chiat days. At its Singapore Indoor Stadium home, “Oignon Farci aux Noix de Saint-Jacques Grillées et son Velouté de Maïs” (“Hokkaido scallops served in a salt-baked onion, with a corn velouté and toasted pinenuts”) was a firm favourite for starters, with “Confit de Cuisses de Canard” (“duck leg confit with honey-mustard vinaigrette and creamy potato purée”) and Steak Frites (“chargrilled beef steak with pink peppercorn beef jus served with pommes frites and mesclun salad”) for mains. However, despite checking out most of what they have, the “new” menu desserts never quite hit the sweet spot.
We hadn’t grown tired of the whimsical decor – astroturf as wallpaper! fairy lights! walls of framed pictures! unsuspecting diners framed as wall decor via mirrors and windows!
Then early this year, friends broke the news that standards might perhaps have slipped. There was a collective groan and verifications were quickly conducted…
Why is it that we work? Is it merely for the pragmatic reason that if we do not work, we do not eat, so we work to buy food, to pay for our accommodation and medical expenses and to send our children to school (so they can learn enough to get work), to purchase material objects that are either necessary or frivolities, to buy experiences (like travel or entertainment)? Well, it is patently obvious that this is the way the world operates. And the church certainly doesn’t encourage slackers – with or without pious excuses like “Oh, i would rather devote myself to meditating on Scripture” or “The end of the world is near, so i won’t bother with such superficial drudgery as work.” Says Paul rather matter-of-factly, “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”. Even though as teachers and preachers, Paul and the disciples had the right to be fed by believers, they worked while they were in Thessalonica so they wouldn’t be a burden to anyone (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
So is there more to work than just getting paid for what we do/what we sell, so we can pay others for what they do/sell? If we have cash and assets enough to last us several lifetimes, would we then be happy not to work, ever? Is work the source of our unhappiness? Those of us who slog know that it’s not just putting in the hours with an eye on the bank account; there’s also a measure of satisfaction that we get from our jobs, which is why we are sometimes willing to take a pay cut to work at something that interests us.
One of the things i like about Christianity (other than the objective veracity of the Bible of course) is that it doesn’t over-spiritualise matters, as if its adherents needed to travel to the outer regions of sanity to accept any of its teachings; it quite blandly states reality as all humans everywhere in the world, throughout the course of human history, experience it, then it explains why things are this way – and i find its explanations also corroborated by experience.
This is what David says in Psalm 8:
To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
1. We have a God who works (Psalm 8:1-3). He worked to create the universe as we know it (Genesis 1-2), and on the seventh day, though he rested from his creative work, he did not stop working within what he had created. This is quite obvious from all God’s acts recorded in the Old Testament, so certain Jews should have known better than to persecute Jesus because he was healing on the Sabbath (John 5).
2. God made humans to work within his creation (Psalm 8:4-8). God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it (Genesis 2:15) and made Eve to help Adam do his job (not because Adam was lonely. Genesis 2:18-21). Working meant not just gardening, though there was that (Genesis 2:5), but also ruling rest of God’s creation (animals, birds, sea creatures) under God (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2). Our work is one aspect of what this rule looks like in this age – so we find some measure of satisfaction in it because working is part of our human specification.
At the event now known as the Fall, Adam and Eve allowed the serpent to rule over them and they in turn thought they could rule over God instead of be ruled by him. Ever since, things have been bad:
- we have had to struggle not to be overwhelmed by the rest of creation (“nature”) that we were meant to have dominion over – not to be killed by earthquakes or tsunamis, or have our legs bitten off by sharks; and
- the rest of creation has had to suffer the abuse of our environmental neglect and, sometimes, outright cruelty.
What hope is there? How can man and all other living things live in harmony and peace, with man ruling properly over the rest of creation and creation submitting to man? We know that all our efforts at protecting ourselves against tsunamis, preventing deaths from infected insects, stopping global warming, halting the rampant logging of rainforests, jailing nasty individuals doing cruel things to puppies in HDB void decks etc, are the equivalent of putting plasters on gaping wounds.
This failure is inevitable because all of creation is in rebellion against their order in God’s creation. Man will only be able to exercise perfect stewardship over nature when man himself properly submits to God, as per original creational order (Romans 8:20-23). And obviously, man can’t do this of his own accord – he can hardly keep his own new year resolutions. Our only hope is to trust that God himself (Jesus) paid for the consequences of our own rebellion, so that when God recreates the universe (the Bible speaks of the “new heavens and new earth” – Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13), we too can be part of it.