The Theology of Work
**pictured** my fourteen-year-old-self working away in my mini Eden.
What makes life worth living? This evasive question has plagued the mortal mind for centuries, causing every generation to search in its own way for true fulfillment from life, faith, and work. Christians especially, believing that life on earth will reap eternal consequences, feel an urgent need to discover what their calling truly is. Often, Christians either air on the side of elevating Christian ministry in the church as the only calling, or forsaking their faith for the workplace. When Christians do this, they either find themselves isolated from the world, or find their calling and their spirituality separated. The conflict, however, is a false dichotomy, and is not necessary. God created humankind for Himself, to work, and for a specific purpose. For individuals to know their calling, they must first know the one who is calling them; God.
Oftentimes work is considered an effect of the fall. The connotation of a vocation is associated with verses like “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground”. The fall did multiply the difficulty of work, however, work did not stem from the fall. The Bible points to the fact that God made human beings for the very purpose of work. Shortly after creating Adam and Eve, God spoke this benediction over them.
God created man in HIs own image, in the image of God He created him; male
and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This verse contains words like multiply, fill, subdue, and rule; all action words. Each verb God intentionally chose for his benediction imply work and effort, and it is important to remember that God instituted work before the fall . God correlates humans being in His image with working; if humans do what God does, they work. Work is not a symptom of the fall, but the purpose of man.
However, if God is removed from the concept of a calling, vocation becomes simply work. Any job will become tiresome and laborious, and if that work is separated from relationship with God will become ultimately menial and meaningless. The first calling is to respond to the caller; God. In his book “The Call”, Os Guinness states “first and foremost we are called to someone (God), not to something”. Guinness refers to our calling to God as our primary calling, and our calling to do what God has made us to do as our secondary calling. Secondary callings are eternally useless if they are not inspired and driven by relationship with God. As Guinness puts it “Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most”.
A secondary calling should stem from the primary calling of seeking and knowing God. A secondary calling should be an outflow of a relationship with God, but need not necessarily be a religious calling. Within in the church there is often an unspoken qualification for secondary callings; a calling is not legitimate unless it is within the church. This gross misunderstanding could lead many people away from God’s true calling on their lives. This misconception that “has often been distorted to become a form of dualism that elevates the spiritual at the expense of the secular.” This form of vocational piety seems to forget that God’s original commands regarding work were in a secular realm. God Commanded Adam and Eve to rule and subdue the earth, or to, in more contemporary phraseology, garden the earth. While callings within in the church are certainly necessary, they should not be valued to the exclusion of secular callings. To value ministry callings over secular callings can be dangerous, because it could cause someone to overlook God’s true calling to follow a ministry vocation they feel obligated to. This was almost the case with William Wilberforce; the MP who eventually eradicated the slave trade in England. In the midst of Wilberforce’s conversion experience “his first reaction was to throw over politics for the ministry”. The repercussions if Wilberforce had decided in favor of working in the church instead of politics could have been disastrous. Without Wilberforce’s fervent commitment to the abolition of the slave trade, the insidious enterprise could have continued for many years. God called Wilberforce to secular work and He calls others to religious work. Both religious and secular work are legitimate and valuable callings.
Work is a part of God’s original design for the world, and should be fulfilling and productive. Humankind’s true and first calling is first to God, and from that relationship comes real fulfilling work. God’s calling on each individual satisfies a unique and distinct need in the world, whether that be within the realm of church or not. The world is a dark place that needs Christians to follow their callings into every dark corner of culture.