We can expect that work in a fallen world will be unpleasant and difficult, but does that mean that work itself is a bad thing?
Those of you who have read the comments that Jonathan and I exchanged yesterday already get the gist of this: even though we may experience work as an unpleasant and difficult thing in the present – it also seems to be a part of our spiritual DNA.
While the creation account doesn’t have a lot to say on the subject, it seems clear that God gave man responsiblities that we would characterize as “work” even before the fall. The primary thrust of those responsbilities seem to have required man to serve as a steward/ruler over the creation. Indeed, Adam was in need of a helper to share in his responsiblities.
But it is in some of Jesus’ parables in Matthew that the idea of a spiritual DNA of work really takes hold of me. Jesus hints that the Kingdom of God has need for workers, that even now we should continue to act as stewards of the Kingdom by producing fruit, and that great responsiblity is waiting for those who are found to be productive in the present age.
I could go on and on. If you doubt me, just pick up your bible and skim through the first book of the New Testament some time, looking for themes of work or labor that are associated with the present (and coming) Kingdom.
Why, then, has work been ruined?
Lets start with this: Work, it seems, can become a blessing when we are satisfied in it. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes knew this. And I think that most of us know that intuitively as well.
When I think about the times I have felt the best about work, those feelings tend to come when I know that I have done a really good job at something. I’ve won a trial (or gotten a frivilous case thrown out). I’ve put together a document that will help someone accomplish a legal objective. Or maybe I’ve given a piece of advice that has made a huge difference in a person’s life.
By contrast, work is least satisfying when I seem to have failed.
Funny thing. The feeling of satisfaction really isn’t dependent on whether I got paid to do what I did. It has to do with the fact that somebody’s life was made better because I had succeeded in my work. I used my own unique skills and abilities to make someone’s life better.
I’m not talking about a feeling of joy or happiness or ecstacy, so much as a simple thought that I did a good job for them. I am, to borrow the Preacher’s term, satisfied in my work. I’m sure that people who build things, or who do art, or who teach, or make and serve food, also know this feeling, though – perhaps – it comes in a slightly different way for them.
I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t overemphasize this point: satisfaction with work will never come as long as you chase The Lie, which says that more stuff and more money and more status/prestige are the reason for work. This happens, I think, because the focus is on making yourself happy instead of the impact that work is having on someone else.
I don’t want to be heard to say that, if we just change our focus, work will suddenly become fun or fulfilling in and of itself. Work, for many of us, will still carry that difficult quality about it, even as we experience this sort of satisfaction. But maybe, just maybe, the experiences that come from that change in focus do help to hint at what is to come.
If I am reading Jesus’ parables correctly, the day is coming when we will no longer work for money. On that day, we will no longer be used by other people to do things that they don’t want to do for themselves, because our work will be for nothing other than to reflect the glory of the One who made us.
Imagine having that kind of purpose in what you do, knowing exactly what you are made for and doing exactly that and nothing else. I suspect that the warm, gentle feelings of satisfaction that we occasionally glimpse in performing work in the present age will be nothing compared to the satisfaction that we will find when our spiritual DNA of work becomes fully active.
But, in the meantime, as I suggested before, God is redeeming us even today. So how does the already/not yet nature of the Kingdom come into play as we continue to work in a fallen world?
I’ve started to wrestle with that question during the last few days, and I hope to write about it soon. In the meantime, does anyone have any thoughts on the subject?
Recent related posts:
– The parable of Max the Bear
– Some commentary on Max’s parable
– A depressing look at real world economics
– A discussion about the joys of margin
– My theblogogy of work, part 1