Before we begin to explore the New Testament on the theme of achievement, it’s worth pulling together some of the threads from our observations gleaned from the Old Testament.
The first point is that God is an achiever. From Genesis 1, we saw that God does things and makes things, which he evaluates and calls “good.” Achievement is something God does, and is therefore inherently good.
Next we saw that God’s intention for humanity in creation is that they too would be achievers, as he is (Genesis 2). Achievement is part of what God has made us for.
But Genesis 3 reminds us that the good design of creation has become corrupted through humanity’s fall into rebellion against God. Work becomes harder, relationships are strained, and there are far-reaching consequences for the topic of achievement.
The two-part case study on Joseph (Genesis 37–50) observed that God might on occasion orchestrate the super-high-achievements of an individual for his purposes and plan. Joseph’s attitude about his meteoric rise to power always acknowledged that his achievements were God’s doing, and fit into God’s bigger picture. It was not about Joseph.
Achievement is an inherently good thing that is wired into creation from the very beginning, and reflects God’s own nature, but it is now flawed, difficult, and requires redemption.
Next we turned to Proverbs to see that the book tends to draw on Genesis 1–2 to say that achievement is a good thing, which may be obtained through wise living. Ecclesiastes, however, seems more interested in the consequences of Genesis 3, and how death makes everything—including achievement—fleeting and futile.
There is no doubt much more that the Old Testament could teach us regarding achievement. We could observe more of God’s sovereign hand in the achievements of Abraham, Moses, David, various achievements within the history of corporate Israel, more of what wisdom literature teaches, and how the prophets point to the future achievements that God has in store, in fulfillment of his overarching plan of salvation.
But some important points can now be distilled that I think represent the big picture of achievement in the Old Testament.
Genesis 1–3 towers over the theme of achievement, as indeed it does for the entire biblical narrative. In those chapters we see the issues in crystallized form: achievement is an inherently good thing that is wired into creation from the very beginning, and reflects God’s own nature, but it is now flawed, difficult, and requires redemption. Everything else we might explore under this theme will be shaped in some way by our understanding of these chapters.
If achievement requires redemption, there will be much to learn from the New Testament, since God’s greatest act of redemption is of course mediated through Jesus Christ. But for now, the Old Testament offers some level of critique to two different cultures.
To a culture that is sometimes suspicious of achievement (like, e.g., my own country, Australia), we must affirm that achievement is inherently good. Though flawed, it ought to be embraced as a good part of God’s creation and part of our mandate for life within creation.
To a culture with an unquestioned embrace of achievement (like, e.g., America), we must affirm that, while good, achievement is flawed and needs redemption. It can easily become an idol and a force for destruction, manipulation, and self-worship. Oh, and death makes it futile anyway.