Work as a Fig Leaf

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” (Genesis 11:4)

The Queen’s Gambit tells the story of Beth Harmon, an orphan who turns to her considerable skills as a chess player to prove to the world that she is worthy of love and attention. In one poignant scene, we hear Beth’s rival tell a friend, “[Beth’s] an orphan. A survivor. Losing is not an option for her. Otherwise, what would her life be?”

That scene powerfully illustrates a central feature of the human condition we’ve seen since the Tower of Babel—namely, our temptation to use our work as a means of “making a name” for ourselves. Pastor Timothy Keller calls this “the work under the work—that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity.”

Ever since Adam and Eve, we have been trying to cover up our sin and inadequacies, not with fig leaves, but with our accomplishments. We think that if we land that promotion, write a bestselling book, retire early, win the next chess match, or build the world’s tallest tower, then we’ll be alright. But this, of course, is a fool’s errand.

As we’ve seen the last few days, Scripture teaches us that work is “very good” (see Genesis 1 and 2). But it also tells us that nothing, including our work, can ever be an ultimate good that justifies us. Which is precisely why God sent his Son to earth some 2,000 years ago. It is to the coming of that Redeemer that we turn to tomorrow as we continue to unpack the biblical narrative of work.


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