What is your theology of work? In his marvelous book God at Work, David Miller observes that “many people of faith live bifurcated lives, compartmentalizing their faith teachings apart from their workplace demands.”
Shortly after completing my M.Div, degree and accepting my job as Counselor at Redeemer Counseling Services in NYC, I was deeply challenged by a talk given by Catherine Leary Alsdorf, former CEO and pioneering leader of Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work. She said, “You who are going into church work need to understand the different challenges people encounter in their work if you are going to help them understand how to live out the Gospel in their callings.”
If a businesswoman in your church asked, “Can you help me understand how to relate my career calling to God’s big story?,” how would you answer her?
Would your answer begin with God’s original purposes in creation, or would you simply go back to the Fall and talk to her about how to more effectively win her co-workers to Christ?
Work was instituted by God before, not after, the Fall.
It is grounded in God’s original purposes for creation. God’s original mandate was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). As Keller observes, “God made the world to need work. He made it such that even he had to work for it to become what he designed it to be, to bring forth all its riches and potential.”
God calls humanity to now continue to form and fill the world that He made. Creation was infused with an inbuilt potential that was meant to be “harvested.” The differentiation of labor into various “callings” through which individuals would contribute to the flourishing of the human community, was part of God’s purpose in creating. Gardening is the original template for understanding all work. It involves creatively developing the raw material of God’s world to bring about human flourishing.
Work is good
The musician takes the raw material of sound “and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life.” What about the person in business?
While speaking to a group of people in business, Richard Mouw observed that God is the master “creator/investor who made the world for all kind of creativity. He urged his listeners to think of God as an investment banker who leveraged his resources to create a whole new world of life. In the same way, what if you see a human need not being met, you see a talent or resource that can meet that need, and you then invest your resources – at your risk and cost – so that the need is met and the result is new jobs, new products, and better quality of life? What you are doing, Mouw concluded, is actually God-like.”
Creation is where we must begin if we are to help our people bring fresh vision into their work. In a future blog post, we will reflect on the implications of the Fall and for relating our work more fully to the mission of God.
The purpose of this blog will be to expand the influence of our faculty, maintain contact with our graduates, and invite other friends to think with us about important biblical and theological ideas.