The Ultimate Villain behind All the Others

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— by Matt Perman

There is an even deeper reason why centering our lives on our own aims or even on correct principles cannot overcome the three villains of ambiguity, overload, and lack of fulfillment. For, from a biblical perspective, we can go deeper than simply acknowledging the presence of the villains and draw the curtain back behind the villains themselves. 

The Bible tells us that creation is under a curse because of our sin. Here’s what God said to Adam after he sinned in the garden: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen. 3:17–18).

When we read that, we typically think of manual labor — that the curse that God placed on Adam was that manual labor would become exceedingly difficult. Farming would no longer produce abundant crops as easily, there would be droughts and floods, thorns would annoy us when we till the ground and walk through meadows, and gardeners would have to fight weeds.

Genesis 3, however, isn’t the only place where the Bible describes the curse of the fall. The end of the Pentateuch, in Deuteronomy 28, gives us a more complete elaboration of the curse. It is interesting, then, that Deuteronomy speaks of “confusion” (v. 20) and “confusion of mind” (v. 28) as part of the curse, along with “frustration in all you undertake to do” (v. 20).

In other words, the curse of the fall didn’t affect only manual work, as we often seem to think. The curse also affected knowledge work. Excessive ambiguity that prevents us from figuring out how to navigate is really a form of confusion; overload is one of many forms that “frustration in all that you do” takes. The inordinate challenges we face in knowledge work can be traced to the fall just as much as the challenges in manual work.

Sin especially lies behind the villain of lack of fulfillment. The reason we lack fulfillment is because we aren’t fulfilling our true purpose — that is, because we have sinned and deviated from God’s path. What a tragedy: we have a purpose (the highest possible — to reflect and glorify God), and yet we can’t fulfill it. This is a terrible situation. Behind the villains, then — behind all of them — is sin and the curse it brought onto the world. The good news? The curse will be done away with. Christ has already dealt the decisive blow, and we will see the fullness of his victory when he returns.

But in the meantime, when it comes to issues of our work and how we can lessen the effects of the curse right now, what’s the solution?


The solution, as we have seen, is to begin with God, to be God-centered in our productivity. This means that we need to serve God according to how he wants to be served, not how we think he should be served. We find out what God wants by looking to what he has revealed in the Scriptures.

What does the Bible say about how God wants to be served? This is an important question, for it’s possible to begin with God in the wrong way. If we view centering our productivity on God as a matter of identifying his standards and then seeking to meet them through our own efforts, we have missed the point.

It is right and good to live according to God’s standards, to be sure. But something needs to happen first, before we can even do that — something even more foundational. The problem is that, because of our sin, we have missed God’s standards. The solution to this is not to try harder. The solution we need is forgiveness.

This is why it is especially important for our approach to productivity to be gospel-driven, based first on the provision that God has given in his Son for our sins, not on what we do for God. For if the challenges we are encountering are ultimately a result of sin and the fall, then the only ultimate solution to them is in the gospel — God’s solution to our sin problem.

[Adapted from What’s Best Next (p. 57-59). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Copyright 2014, 2016 by Matt Perman.]


[Special thanks to Tim Mossholder on Unsplash for the cover photo]