A few weeks back, I started writing about work and its relationship with God’s redemptive plan. All of the time-consuming activity associated with our Fort Worth mission trip provided the perfect excuse/cover for me to avoid what is the hardest part of the whole subject. But that excuse is pretty much gone, now, so I guess I need to get back to it.
For those who have joined us recently, here is a brief roadmap to the theblogogy of work that I developed in previous entries:
1. There is a very strong cultural myth that runs through the fabric of American society which suggests that work can be this wonderful, fulfilling experience. This is why women thought it was a great thing when they got to become part of the workplace a few decades back. The idea is that – if you find the right thing to do – you can “enjoy” your work.
2. The experiences that most people have with work are largely the opposite of the cultural myth: work is unpleasant and difficult. Consequently, people think that there is something wrong with them because work isn’t this fulfilling, happy experience.
3. We shouldn’t expect work to be pleasant. Scripture tells us that work in this world is cursed, and common sense tells us that the only reason we are doing it is because someone else doesn’t enjoy it (or else they would do it for themselves).
4. Worse yet, in chasing greater and greater economic power, those of us who are employed in the business and professional world are often forced to become people that we don’t want to be to achieve our financial goals, or even just to hang on to our debt-saturated standards of living.
5. Likewise, the econmic power that we acquire after we sell ourselves out to our careers isn’t nearly as satisfying as we expect it to be. (I explored a lot of the ideas that I’ve summarized so far in the Parable of Max the Bear and some related commentary).
6. Work involves economic relationships, which means that people’s value is based on their usefulness to each other. Employers use employees to turn profits. Employees use employers to get paychecks. In most economic relationships, everyone prefers to give as little as possible and to take as much as they can possibly take from each other.
7. Needless to say, these types of relationships are not based on the primacy of love for one’s neighbor, a principle that rests at the center of God’s redemptive purposes.
8. But here the good news of the gospel comes into play: if work is closedly tied to the curse, that means God must also be redeeming work, along with the rest of creation. Indeed, many of the parables that appear in Matthew strongly suggest that work – uncursed – is something that will continue in the new creation.
9. If the redemption of work is like that which is portrayed in scripture, we can expect that it will have an already dimension and a not yet dimension. That is, while we anticipate a day when work is fully redeemed, we should be experiencing that redemption in the here and now.
All of this brings me to the annoyingly practical and disquieting question of how God’s redemptive purposes manifest themselves in the type of work that goes on from 8-5 on weekdays in office buildings, cubicles, and delivery trucks. How is God reaching into the tedium, annoyances, stresses, and frustrations of human occupations to redeem what is happening there?
As I’ve already said – this is the place where I have been a little stumped. And its taken me some time to find answers that feel honest and faithful to both experience and scripture. In a way, these answers don’t add up to anything really profound, and they certainly aren’t original ones. But they are worth examining in this context.
So, having belabored the set-up of the next series of entries for way too long, here is my first reflection on the redemption of work:
When it comes to our jobs, could it be that God is calling us – first and foremost – to show him the money?
If the Kingdom of God has to do with God being in power, and if the primary function of our work is to acquire economic power, then any time that ANY of the money that comes from a paycheck or business is taken and put into use for the Kingdom, something profound is happening.
This is the most direct way I can think of that the Kingdom can be manifested as a result of work – anyone’s work. You go into the world, doing what you do best in exchange for money. Then, rather than being put to use to buy bigger houses or nicer cars or cooler gadgets, your money is used to advance the Kingdom: helping the impoverished, providing protection to orphans and widows, and feeding the starving. In essence, to the extent the money generated by your job or business is put to use in the Kingdom, you are working in the Kingdom. Every day. Just by doing what you do.
The implications of this line of thought can lead to places that are so radical that most of us don’t want to think about it very much. Lets face it: most of our income goes to taking care of ourselves and our famlies. But I don’t think this point can be ignored.
Also, even if you take this line of thought down more comfortable paths, it still has some pretty serious implications. Where does the money generated by your job go? If it is for your home, how is your home being used to further the Kingdom? If it is for food or clothes, how are those things being shared with others? If it is for cool gadgets (my particular obsession), can they somehow be used/shared to benefit others? How is that country club membership bringing the Kingdom into the world?
I think that a lot of us are searching for answers about our work that relate to HOW work is done. We want a formula that tells us how God will make us feel better about work because of the way we go about it, or because of how we influence others while we work. And I WILL explore that idea, with a few serious caveats, in a couple of posts. But if you’re not willing to consider the issue of where the product of your work goes in light of Jesus’ example and teachings, the rest of the answers quickly become lame cop-outs.
In the end, the question is: what are you working for? Why are you working? Your work is being redeemed when – as a result of your work – the Kingdom is being advanced. And if the best thing your job or business does is generate money (as it ought), then you can’t ignore the implications that flow from the issue of how that money is used for Kingdom purposes.