So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. (Genesis 3.23)
What We’re Made Of
“Get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of” is one of those chewed-up pep phrases with no meat left on them. It’s what the hamstrung producer says to the terrified understudy about to face the footlights, what the pug-faced coach uses to rally his team of underdogs before the big game. It’s a movie cliché as old as the movies. Since it never fails on the silver screen, it’s laughable in real life, where no writers can engineer an improbable triumph. Still, the phrase came to mind when digging around for a Labor Day topic led me to Genesis 3.23: “So the LORD God banished him [Adam] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” The connection between what we’re made of and the living we make is new to me, even though it’s always been there, explicitly spelled out. The verse puts fresh meat on the cliché, giving us plenty to sink our teeth into.
I landed on Genesis 3.23 by starting at verse 19, a Labor Day gem: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken.” Next comes the ominous suggestion labor we undertake to survive, i.e., “making a living,” is futile: “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” This, of course, is the curse we inherited from Adam—our compulsion to do everything we can to live well and long, all the while knowing human life is fragile and finite. Gripped by mortality’s grim irony, it’s easy to glide by verse 23 as a recap of 19, never catching the huge implication in its syntactical shift. God banishes Adam from Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Groundwork is what’s missing in 19. To escape life’s dust-to-dust futility, we must ask, “What’s in the dirt?” Or, better yet, “What’s in our dirt?” Once we answer that, “show ‘em what you’re made of” is no cliché. It’s a calling.
Replete with Goodness
Whether we view the Bible’s account of our creation literally or metaphorically, the dirt at its center proves remarkably rich. By itself it’s useless—which is not to say worthless. Dirt is replete with goodness: vitamins and minerals, substance and malleability. Pressure and heat solidify its surface, yet it never gets so hard it can’t absorb fresh water, break open, and fulfill its purpose. Because its meaning and worth derive from what’s planted and rooted in it, no medium could be more perfect for our making. That’s why—after speaking all other plants and animals into existence—God uses a different method for us. He scoops up inert soil, molds it to His pleasure, and endows it with purpose by breathing life into it. Yet if His breath of life transfixes us to the point we ignore our origins in the soil, we glimpse only half the miracle. Being taken from the ground signifies goodness is elemental to us. We’re replete with it.
Suddenly “working the ground” transcends dragging ourselves out of bed day after day to work for our survival. Our primary occupation turns into identifying the inherent goodness in us and allowing it to nurture talents and opportunities God seeds into our lives. It’s important to remember although soil serves the same purpose wherever it’s found, its composition varies greatly from place to place. So it is with us. The ground God formed into you contains a unique blend of goodness that enables your gifts to thrive where you are. My blend of goodness is unique to me so what grows out of me fits my circumstances and environment. Nonetheless, the world is full of believers who think all Christians are made of the same stuff to grow the same seed and thrive in the same environment. Not so. Just as God makes cacti grow in Arizona and redwoods rise in California, the gifts He wants to spring up and take root where we are determines what's in our soil. The ground we're taken from is the ground we work.
All We Need
Once God makes us from ground that best suits His intentions, He provides all we need to flourish. As 2 Corinthians 9.8-10 points out, what blossoms from one seed generates many more seeds. The living we make by working the goodness in us yields a harvest that sustains not only us. It also enriches the people and communities we serve. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work,” Paul writes before referencing Psalm 112.9: “As it is written, ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”
The goodness in our dirt comes alive in the living we make from the life God seeds into us. This weekend, wherever you are—whether in the States, celebrating Labor Day, or elsewhere—make time to recognize your unique goodness. Identify the gifts that grow out of it. Recommit to working the ground you’re taken from. Then get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of!
The dirt from which God shapes each of us contains a unique blend of goodness that enables the gifts He seeds in us to flourish where we are.
Postscript: Show Them What You’re Made Of
Here’s a song for those who might like a little accompaniment while contemplating the goodness in our dirt. Nik Kershaw sings “Show Them What You’re Made Of.”