Work tied to marriage and family, says Hamilton at Commonweal lecture

Communications Staff — February 18, 2016

Marriage is foundational to God’s creation mandate, said James M. Hamilton Jr. at a Feb. 17 lecture sponsored by the Commonweal Project at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, said work is inseparable from the family in God's creation order.
James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, said work is inseparable from the family in God’s creation order.

“The work God gave the man to do is not to be disconnected from marriage and family,”  said Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary. “In fact, marriage and family enable man to accomplish the work God gave him to do.”

Hamilton juxtaposed the biblical view of work with the one expressed in the Harry McClintock song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” featured in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” While the lazy might imagine a perfect paradise “where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk that invented work,” the song of Psalm 128 promises to bless the one who “will eat the fruit of [his] labor” and will enjoy a bountiful family.

“Life at ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain’ would not result in true and lasting happiness or satisfaction,” Hamilton said.

The story of the universe begins with God himself working by speaking worlds into being, completing his task without drudgery, Hamilton said, and he continues to work throughout history to fulfill his purposes. When God creates Adam on the sixth day, he immediately puts him to work as his image-bearer.

“Man was created, not for passive observation of the world, but for an epic task, a worldwide venture,” Hamilton said.

God first commands for the man to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28), which is impossible without the female helper God created for him, Hamilton said. The work God gives to mankind is inseparable from the marriage institution and the sexual biology God intended, Hamilton said.

“In order to subdue and rule, man will have to be fruitful and multiply. In order to subdue and rule, he will have to fill,” he said. “This makes the fact that man was made male and female indispensable.”

Although man cannot finish God’s task without the woman, he didn’t establish marriage only for practical reasons. God designed the union between man and woman to make the task a delightful experience, Hamilton said.

“In the true story Genesis tells, God gave marriage not only to enable the great task, but also to enrich the life and work God gave to man,” he said.

Every task originated from the archetypal work found in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2, Hamilton said. From the farmer and ditch-digger to the software developer and nuclear physicist, all righteous work falls under the purposes of God in Eden. According to Hamilton, when God “placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it,” the Hebrew word for “placed” literally means “caused him to rest.” This indicates that, just as God took a Sabbath after creating the world, so man’s labor is a “restful work.”

Western culture has increasingly revolted against God-given roles, and since marriage is foundational to the work God assigned to man, Hamilton argued transgenderism and same-sex marriage are rejections of God himself.

“Our culture is in revolt against the idea that biology corresponds to sexual identity. … The revolt seeks to overthrow the so-called gender binary, as though being either biologically male or biologically female is somehow a too restrictive approach to the issue,” Hamilton said. “Rather than viewing biological sex and the accompanying gender roles as some kind of straightjacket, however, we should receive what God made us as his gift.”

The Commonweal Project on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing, funded by the Kern family, is an academic initiative at the seminary to foster a theology of work and economics.

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