Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human, John Mark Comer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.
Summary: An argument that our work is an important aspect of what it means for us to be human, setting our work in the context of the arc of God’s work taking humanity from the garden to the new garden city in the new creation.
I’ve often heard it emphasized that we are human beings rather than human doings. John Mark Comer challenges this truism in Garden City. He contends that what we do is a vital aspect of what it means for us to be human. What he proceeds to do is offer a theology of work within the arc of God’s redemptive purposes. And he does so in a conversational series of chapters that read like blog posts to millenials.
The first part of this book concerns our work. We were created kings and queens, partners with God in ruling over his world. He placed the first humans in a place called Delight–Eden. It’s an untamed wilderness and God bids them “make a world.” So how do we discern God’s calling in this “world-making” calling. He suggests a series of questions: what do you love? what are you good at? what does your world need? what does your world need? does it make the world a more garden-like place? Then he challenges the idea of the sacred/secular split. He observes that in Hebrew, there is no word for spiritual–it’s all spiritual and matters to God, and all may reflect the glory of God. And this leads to working with excellence. Yet work isn’t always what we would hope for it. Instead of ruling over the serpent, Adam and Eve allow the serpent to rule over them. And one of the consequences is the curse that falls on work, which becomes hard, sometimes futile, sometimes frustrating but also drives us to God.
The second part of the book is about rest. We were not made to work all the time. God rested. We rest. God is the anti-Pharaoh. The Exodus restores a day of rest to former slaves never permitted to rest and becomes a day celebrating God’s deliverance. Sabbath is made for us. And it points us toward the future.
The future is the focus of part three. It is not a return to the garden but an advance to the garden city of the new creation. Following N.T. Wright, Comer writes about life after heaven, life in the new creation in God’s new garden city as resurrected people. Comer discusses the hope that it will not all burn up, that the works done to God’s glory will endure into the new creation–a motivation to God honoring excellence. And greatness in this world is turned upside down. The giving of a cold glass of water may outshine seemingly heroic acts. The big thing is answering the call of the king.
I mentioned the conversational character of Comer’s writing style. But this is not theology-lite. Comer offers as substantive a theology of work, of rest, of calling, and of our destiny as I’ve read in far more abstruse works. He advances ideas and gives us space to ponder and absorb them. He is one who allows a few words to do the work of many. This is a “back list” book and I have noticed from his website that he has several he has published since. Because of this book, I’ll try to read them if I get the chance.