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Working for good

"Working for good" Continued...

Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

This is not to say that the new standard ought to be: My happiness! Nor does it indicate that every good Christian should be a poet, or a carpenter, or whatever he most enjoys. Nor does it absolve parents of the responsibility to provide for their families, no matter what kind of workplace drudgery that entails.

But neither does it neglect one's happiness in an unchristian haze of Stoic pietism. As Frederick Buechner notes in his lovely essay, "The Calling of Voices," our gladness is often not so very different from the world's need. This is what one should expect from a good, loving Creator God, that He would call us into joyful work for Him. Yes, the curse of the Fall indicates that work will be hard, but it does not indicate that work must be joyless. To think otherwise is to lose sight of the fundamental distinction between happiness and joy.

None of this means that we are all entitled to work that is grand. A mother mending a hole in her child's shirt participates in God's redemptive work just as much as a surgeon removing a brain tumor. But it does indicate that not every legal job is fitting for servants of the Creator and Great Physician. Can we believe that God smiles on a worker dutifully canning beans? Absolutely. But what about makers of food additives that serve no end other than to further an addiction to sweetness? Or sellers of clearly inferior products? Or a Danielle Steel who produces immoral or amoral trash? A Christian cannot avoid responsibility for this fundamental question: Does my work create enduring value?

Christian leaders before our modern age of fatty, bureaucratic organizations considered these two essential elements-faithful service and a work product that is genuinely valuable-to be synonymous. How can one faithfully do work, after all, that yields no value? Our modern theology of work has lost this critical understanding. We have separated the means (diligent employment) from the end (participation in God's creative, redemptive order). The consequence is that we teach, in effect, that the only bar a Christian's employment need pass before it is worthy of his Father is that it be legal and not overtly connected to sex.

It's no secret that many in the wealthy West are stricken by ennui, a particular blend of physical satiation and purposeless drift. Our bellies are full and our hearts are empty. It is a pity that the modern theology of work, by sanctioning the alienation of man from his labor and calling it holy, contributes to this phenomenon among Christians. We need to encourage every Christian to consider his labors, and to ask if all of them are pleasing to the Lord of creation. Alongside our essential responsibility to care for our families, we should try to remember our responsibility to use our talents in labor that is truly valuable. Our loving God has created us to do no less.

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