See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind….[My people] will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. (Isaiah 65:17, 21-22)
We’re in a four-week series exploring the biblical truths illustrated in J.R.R. Tolkien’s remarkable parable, Leaf by Niggle. Niggle was an artist who spent years developing a massive painting of a tree. Sadly, Niggle died only having finished a single leaf. But when Niggle arrives in the heavenly afterlife, he finds his tree finished and even better than he imagined!
Last week, we saw how this story illustrates the biblical hope that there are eternal rewards tied to how we work in this life (see Colossians 3:23-24). Here’s what I want us to see today: That even though we have hope that our work matters for eternity, it is only proper to mourn over unfinished and unfulfilling work today.
This is what we see Niggle doing in Tolkien’s short story. When death is on Niggle’s doorstep, he works frantically to finish his masterpiece, but eventually, he resigns himself to the inevitable: “‘Oh dear!’ said poor Niggle, beginning to weep. ‘And it’s not even finished!’”
Niggle feared what many of us do—that we will never close the gap between what we can envision accomplishing in this life and what we actually will. We will all die with “unfinished symphonies.”
But maybe you’re not mourning over work you won’t be able to finish. Perhaps you’re mourning over work you have yet to begin. You feel as if you have yet to find the work that best matches your gifts and passions and you’re “stuck” in what feels like a “dead-end job.”
It’s only natural to lament over these things, for unfinished and unfulfilling work were not a part of God’s original design for work (see Genesis 1-3). But sin has ensured that work today is difficult and we will all die with unfulfilled dreams for our work, just like Niggle.
These are things we should mourn over. But just as we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” in death (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13), we also do not mourn over our work in the same way as the rest of the world. Why? Because there is coming a day when we will work free from the curse of sin!
Today’s passage makes this clear. Isaiah is sharing a prophetic vision of the New Earth where God will dwell with us forever (see also Revelation 21:1-5). But Isaiah’s picture of eternity isn’t of disembodied souls floating around and playing harps all day. Isaiah says we will work for eternity! We will “build houses,” “plant vineyards,” and “not labor in vain.”
And because there will be no sin, there will be no unfinished symphonies or unfulfilling work. We will have all the time we need to paint our masterpieces, finish our novels, plant our vineyards, and “long enjoy the work of [our] hands.”
How do we maintain this perspective in the day-to-day grind of earthly work? That’s the question we’ll answer next week.