There are many things we do in this world that grow wearisome over the course of a lifetime. Near the top of the heap may just be the constant battle to bring order from chaos. This world and everything in it are constantly drifting toward chaos, maybe even full-out hurtling toward chaos. And a million times in a million ways we take little actions to hold it back, to restore just a modicum of order.
God knows all about order and chaos. Whatever God created in the very first moments of creation was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). We may not know all that is caught up in that little phrase, but it is clear that whatever was there was incomplete, unformed. As God began to move in his week of creation, he brought order from that initial disorder. He organized, he formed, he made, he filled. From that unformed substance emerged the beauty, the order, of this world. But it emerged only by his effort, his will, his handiwork.
Then God created people. God created people in his image and assigned them God-like work: They, too, were to bring order from chaos. God created man and placed him in the garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Man was to serve God and to serve like God by tending this garden. This garden was beautiful and perfect, but it, too, needed handiwork. It was, after all, a garden. It was full of plants that would sprout and need to be tended, of hedges that would grow and need to be trimmed. God meant for his people to make this garden a place of obvious and visible order that would stand apart from the world outside the garden. And as man obeyed God’s instruction to spread out over the rest of the earth, he would extend this order outward, through the region, the continent, the world. This was man’s exercise of dominion, his work of subduing the earth and all that is in it.
This work of bringing order from chaos is dignified work. It is God-like work, God-assigned work. Victor Hamilton says it well: “The point is made clear here that physical labor is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working. Eden certainly is not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.” Man was created to work, to work within God’s good creation. And it is not only work that has dignity, but the specific work of bringing order from chaos, of bringing what is unformed into the state of being formed. That work would become even more important as sin entered the world and with it the consequences of sin—the thorns and thistles that would combat (literally) the work of the farmer and combat (figuratively) every other manner of work.
And even today, so much of the work we do in life is of this nature. So much of the work we do in our families, in our homes, in our churches, in our vocations, is the work of bringing order from chaos. And this is good work.
As parents we soon learn that our children come into this world in a state of utter chaos and anarchy, screaming when they want to eat, filling their diapers whenever and wherever they feel the urge. They grow into willful toddlers who want to rule the home, who want to exercise authority over their parents and siblings, who already show startling signs of rebellion against both God and man. Our task is to love them, to teach them, to discipline them, to urge them, to form them. We form them into people of order, of self-control, of self-respect, of selflessness, of godliness. Chaos gives way to order.
As church members we see the Lord save his people and they come into our churches with barely a shred of Christian character. They are addicted to sex or substances, they use their words to harm rather than help, they have only the smallest knowledge of God and his ways. So we disciple them, we teach, reprove, correct, and train them, we display Christ-like love to them, and eventually, inevitably, we see chaos replaced by order. We do this again and again as God saves more and more of his people. Chaos is chased away by order.
As people working in our vocations we do this same kind of work. We sweep and wax the hallways for the thousandth time, we edit the messy manuscripts, we train more inert people to drop 20 pounds and run 5 kilometers, we write traffic tickets for the people who insist on parking in fire lanes, we teach another class of ignorant students, we weed another bed of flowers. It goes on and on, day after day and year after year. But all the while it goes from chaos to order.
And then there are our homes, our homes which in mid-afternoon are clean and orderly and by early evening are little short of a disaster area. We take little actions and big ones: We sweep the floors, we empty the sink to fill the dishwasher, we replace empty lunch bags with full ones, we replenish the toilet paper, we shovel the toys back into their bins and boxes. Messiness departs and order arrives for another day or another hour.
This is so much of our work as long as we are here—the work of bringing order from the chaos that is always so close at hand. This work is good. It may be frustrating, repetitive, endless. But it is good. This work is good enough for God and good enough for God to assign to the very crown of his creation. It is certainly good enough for the likes of you and me.