Reminiscing about this experience, I recalled an elderly gentleman telling me a fictional story of a Persian prince who wanted to be known as the wisest and most knowledgeable ruler of all time. So, he commissioned the intellectuals in his kingdom to gather all the knowledge in the world. Several decades later, the head of the commission informed the prince, who now had become king, that they had completed his charge and had built a great library containing all the information that was known in the world.
Excited, the king followed the wise man to the large edifice so he could learn all there was to know. However, the king quickly became discouraged when he saw how much material there was to learn. There was no way he could comprehend all this information in his lifetime, even if he dedicated all his time to study. Yet he did not want to abandon his quest to be regarded as the wisest ruler in history. So, he charged the committee of wise men to condense all this data down to only material facts and formulas.
A number of years later, the senior advisor again approached the king and informed him that the commission had completed the task and condensed all this knowledge so it was now contained in just one large room. Again, the king was discouraged because he realized that it would still require a great deal of time and effort to learn all this material. So, the king again instructed the wise men to condense all this information down to just the most material and relevant facts and wisdom of the ages. Again, they labored for years to abridge and consolidate this data down so it could fit in one large book.
The chief intellectual again informed the king of their great accomplishment in consolidating all this knowledge and wisdom so it could be contained in one book. However, shortly after the king began to study this encyclopedia, he realized that it still would require a great effort on his part to assimilate all this information. So, he again instructed his wise men to condense all this truth and knowledge. This time, the king told them to distill all the material down to just the essence of all wisdom.
After consulting with his colleagues for several days, the wise man returned and informed the king that they had completed their assignment. The essence of all wisdom was contained in a simple sentence: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Despite the intended humor in this story, I have learned over the years that there is great wisdom in internalizing the simple truth that we can’t get something for nothing. It may appear that some people do, but there are always hidden costs and unintended consequences associated with trying to obtain something without a fair exchange of value. Regardless, it appears to me that the foolish desire to obtain something for nothing dominates the lives of many people. It is as if they are striving to find a shortcut to a life of luxury and ease without any consequences or having to pay for it. However, that quest is as futile as searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He told Adam (and all his posterity) that he would eat bread by the sweat of his brow all the days of his life. (Genesis 3:19). I believe that most people view this as a great curse, but I think God was simply telling us the rules of the game of life. I do not view this so much as a punishment but rather as instruction on how to live and get ahead in life. We need to exchange something of value (work) in order to receive something else of value which we want in return. These are the playground rules, and there are always adverse consequences when we ignore them.
However, the underlying motivation for so many of our actions seems to be a misguided quest to return to the ease of the Garden of Eden. We want to live life without any cares, and when we desire something, we want to receive it immediately without any effort. If we are hungry, we simply want to reach up and pluck some tasty fruit off a tree and enjoy it.
We are constantly looking for ways to receive something for nothing. This is why so many individuals are seduced by gambling, get-rich-quick schemes, multilevel marketing programs, and a welfare lifestyle. Invariably, the result is disappointment and often financial ruin. I have learned from sad experience that regardless of the venture, investment, or opportunity, whenever the real underlying motivation to participate is to obtain a financial reward that is not commensurate with the value provided, I will be disappointed. However, when I focus on creating value, things work out, and I have sufficient resources for my needs and eventually even enough for some of the luxuries of life.
It is fine to want nice things in life. But we run into problems when we try to obtain them without earning them. We create these problems because our efforts are not based on true principles. If we are not living in reality, we will run into problems when we bump up against it. The school of hard knocks is a tough but effective teacher. Conversely, as we live according to true principles, we become free.
One of the main purposes of life in this physical world is to help us more fully learn the law of the harvest. There are consequences for our actions, and we reap what we sow. The cause and effect of this physical world reenforces the truth of this principle very effectively and dramatically. Break the laws of physics, and there are immediate consequences. For example, a while ago, I was not very careful while standing on a ladder to get something out of our attic. As a result, I fell and hit my hip and head on the hard concrete garage floor. So, for the following week, every time I took a step, I was reminded of the consequence of my foolish action.
God has decreed that His blessings come from obedience to the law on which that blessing is based, even if it is supplication for grace. The principle of cause and effect applies as much in the spiritual realm as it does in this physical world. Consequently, God uses physical laws to help us learn this principle so we can apply it in the spiritual arena.
Therefore, we are attempting to avoid one of the main purposes of our existence here on earth whenever we try to find a shortcut and circumvent the eternal principle that one needs to give value in order to receive value. Our quest for Eden is misguided, and we will eventually be disappointed if we continue down that path. Unfortunately, the consequence of this course of action is not always readily apparent to those traveling along the path of life. Regardless, the eventual outcome is still sure, whether it be the loss of time, energy, and money pursuing a fantasy or the disruption of normal family life for the few who actually win the lottery. Disappointment invariably follows.
The grass often seems greener on the other side of the fence. Consequently, so much of our time, energy, and money is spent pursuing the dream of a life of luxury and ease and our efforts to get there overnight. Many individuals strive to retire as early as possible, only to discover that the grass really isn’t greener after they have gone out to pasture. They soon become disenchanted with their life of leisure. They realize that God’s decree that we will eat bread in the sweat of our brow all the days of our life still applies because man has an innate need to create value and contribute in order to maintain a healthy self-worth and find fulfillment.
The human desire to create comes from our divine nature that struggles to expand and express itself. Consequently, when we squelch that instinct or fail to make the effort to develop it, we are suppressing a divine part of our character. There is great satisfaction in completing a task and knowing you did a good job. God himself looked at the earth He created and acknowledged that it was good. (Genesis 1).
I am convinced that work is an eternal principle that actually helps us experience joy and fulfillment. I believe the common conception of heaven being a boring place where we all sit around on clouds doing nothing but play harps all day is a delusion and results from our misguided quest for Eden. I personally believe that in heaven we will actually experience an enhanced ability to express our divine nature through unlimited opportunities to create. While we are here on earth, we can learn to connect with God through our efforts to create value for the benefit of others. Many persons in the Renaissance and Romantic Period proclaimed that they had discovered a connection with the Divine through the arts. Once we recognize that work is an expression of our divine nature, we can learn to realize serenity in performing even mundane tasks.
Our misguided quest to find Eden distracts us from our eternal mission to become like God. If we truly seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we shall discover Him inside us, inspiring us to excel and bless our fellowmen. We will realize the peace and tranquility that comes from knowing our daily tasks are pleasing to God. We will enjoy satisfaction from doing a good job, regardless of how menial. Then, if we seek riches, we may obtain them, but affluence will not be the end goal. Instead, we will realize that wealth is simply a tool that God can use to accomplish His purposes of blessing the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. Regardless, our divine yearnings to create will find constructive ways to be fulfilled.