Satisfying Work in the New Jerusalem
What’s heaven like? In Isaiah 65, God promises to create new heavens and a new earth, to undo a world of suffering and renew his beloved Jerusalem.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”
So what will this new Jerusalem be like? And is there anything we can do now to better reflect this new world? Isaiah 65 gives four key features of the new heavens and earth in this passage – and one that we hardly ever mention:
- Long Life. In the new Jerusalem, there will no longer be infants who live just a few days, or people who do not live out their years to old age. Untimely, tragic death will be no more, and life will reign (Is. 65:20).
- Peace and Justice. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain” (Is. 65:25). There will no longer be violence or destruction. Peace and justice will flow in the streets – and even the fields – of the new Jerusalem. Strong and weak, powerful and powerless, will sit at the table of fellowship, a vision not much different from Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision that one day “on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
- Renewed Family. No longer will women “bear children doomed to misfortune” but instead God will bless families and their descendants (Is. 65:23).
- Satisfying Work. Because we so rarely mention work in the context of heaven, I’ll quote Isaiah 65:22-23a at length: “They will build houses, and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain.”
There are two things to notice about this passage:
- The structure of the passage is built around Genesis 3 and 4. The new heavens and earth is a reversal of the effects of the Fall. Death was a result of sin (Gen. 3:19, Rom. 5:8), and Isaiah states God will reverse the effects of death with fruitful life (Is. 65:20). God curses both childbearing and work as a result of sin (Gen. 3:16-19), but both the family and work are restored in the new heavens and earth (Is. 65:22-23). Finally, one of the most devastating effects of the Fall is violence. Genesis 4 – when Cain murders his brother Abel – prefigures a world of injustice and bloodshed; Isaiah 65 envisions wolfs and lambs living side-by-side in peace.
- Satisfying work is at the center of the new heavens and earth. The reason God’s chosen ones “enjoy the work of their hands” is because the can live in the houses they built, and enjoy the fruit of the vineyards they planted. The very opposite of this is “laboring in vain” and having others live in the houses they built, and others eat the vineyards they plant. Now, I think the immediate context of this passage is a promise that foreign armies would no longer rule over Israel, and essentially plunder their wealth (homes and vineyards). But nonetheless, this passage makes it clear that seeing and enjoying the work of your own hands is central to shalom, to peaceful communities. (Ecclesiastes makes similar statements about the curse of toiling so that others might enjoy your work, and, conversely, the divine blessing of finding satisfaction in your work [Ecc. 2:17-18, 3:13]).
In this post, I wanted to just lay some biblical groundwork for discussing further questions about satisfying work down the road. But for now, I’d really like to get your feedback on a couple simple questions:
What makes for satisfying work? Or, perhaps more easily answered, what do you think are the core features of frustrating work? In what situations do you say, “That was a good day’s work?”, and when do you lament, “I accomplished absolutely nothing today?”
(Note: Thank you to Robert Gelinas and Colorado Community Church for asking us [the congregation] to memorize this passage. It’s well worth our in-depth reflection.)
Photo: Jerusalem Sunrise