By David Williamson.
This is the third of a series.
In their book Make Your Job A Calling, Dik and Duffey address distortions in our approach to work, when we either make it merely a means or treat it as establishing personal value. If our job has some social status, we are ready, and even quick, to tell someone – almost apologetically – our job title. Or, if we have a lower-status position: “I‘m just a…” or, “It is just a … company,” intentionally taking away any “bragging rights” that we or others may attach to the job or the company. This undervalues people who do that kind of work, or the company that does it.
Conversely, if all work is legitimate, and beneficial work is ordained by God to be a vehicle for delivering a contribution in valued services or products, that undermines either or both of the errors above. Distorted approaches introduce a hierarchy of ultimate value or significance, when God wants to honor all work and each worker.
Blue collar work and service industries are especially likely to be regarded as inferior or even sub-human. This is a disservice to the worker and the company. It even misperceives the kind of work itself.
If God is the creator of work, all forms of honest, “people-benefitting” work are gifts from God. They are an extension of God’s own goodness in creation. To look down on the gift minimizes creation and the human creature, and makes God less than the God of love and the God of all creation. Consider sanitation: It is not pleasant work to do, but it is indispensable for human and community flourishing.
It is equally important to avoid puffing up any form of work to an ultimate basis of value. If denigrating work devalues the gift of creation, idolizing work devalues the gift of redemption.
Humans cannot earn or achieve their own salvation. It is a gift from God, feely and lovingly given. God has paid the price for this. And any human effort through one’s own work diminishes this gift.
Dik and Duffey quote Darrow Miller, who described Martin Luther’s view of work: “If righteousness is by faith, the contemplative life of the monks and priests is neither higher nor lower than the active life of the faithful farmer, cabinetmaker or homemaker. All of work is morally legitimate, that is, sacred. Priest, and farmer, nun and homemaker, theologians and laborers all stand on faith before God.” (Miller, LifeWork p. 22, quoted in Make Your Job a Calling, p. 34)
Luther saw all work as a way to love one’s neighbor; a partial fulfillment of the second great commandment, to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself. Dik and Duffey observe that prior to Luther, to love God was to leave your work and join the “spiritual” world of the monastery or the cloister. After Luther, rather than retreat into the “religious life,” we are called to serve and love our neighbor through whatever work God has for us.
Dik and Duffey observe that we are called to work because we have skills and abilities to contribute to the wellbeing of others, making their lives better. Beyond fulfilling faithfully the occupation in which God has placed you, you can explore many other avenues for serving the common good as well. In some situations that is a little more challenging than in others, but the point is still valid.
Calvin, while essentially agreeing with Luther, noted that in some situations, the right way to serve God though serving neighbor was less obvious. Luther stressed serving well wherever you found yourself, but Calvin was more open to making changes. Sometimes there needed to be important corrections in social circumstances. The lover of people should take good notice of their situation and skills and talents, and find ways to honor God thoughtfully, carefully and even assertively, serving the common good of the whole community.
For us, this idea may suggest the importance of career or personal assessment studies. There may be ways we can make a change to increase the full and effective expression of love through our work. To love with all my heart and mind, and thus with my skills/talents as well as time, the goal is to serve the common good – the well-being of the whole community.