What does Christianity believe about work? And how does that impact YOUR work, whatever it may be?
Work Has a Meaning
Christians believe that work isn’t just something you do because you have to eat, and you need money. Work is one of the things God designed people for, and so it has meaning for us. The Bible tells us that people were made in the image of God, and one of the first things the Bible tells us about God is that he works. He creates. He makes things—all things, in fact. So it’s no surprise that human beings made in God’s image also have a drive to work—to create—to make and do things which are “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Work Is Hard
Of course, this doesn’t mean everything we call “work” is good. There are jobs that produce nothing good—jobs producing useless, low quality garbage that gets chucked in the trash almost as soon as it’s acquired. There are jobs that are actively harmful, like those that encourage people to overspend, to get addicted, to do things that actively harm themselves and other people. Could you justify working at Ashley Madison or other websites that promote cheating on spouses? What about being a spammer, or working to get people to take out high interest loans you know they won’t be able to pay off? And what about jobs that actively harm the environment, particularly ones where the return is clearly not worth it?
There are also jobs which could be very good, but aren’t—because the boss is unfair, because the company cuts corners on safety, because the pay and the hours are terrible, and workers aren’t in a position to make things better. If you work in one of these jobs, we’re sorry. That sucks. Some of us have been there too.
Of course normal, healthy people want to work at jobs that are good—that help the world instead of harming it further. They also want to work in places where the bosses are fair, where safety rules get enforced and where they get paid what they deserve. But not everybody gets to choose. Sometimes the only job choices available to people are bad ones. They may not have the training to get better jobs, or they may live in a place where the jobs just aren’t there. And so they make do with what they can get.
This state of affairs has been going on for so long that it almost seems normal to us. We blame the economy, the current administration, or just plain bad luck. But the Bible tells us there is a deeper reason for the mess that we call work, and that is the result of human rebellion against God. It says that long ago, at the very dawn of human history, we turned against God, and by doing so managed to mess up the entire human race. And one of the key areas that got messed up was our relationship to work. Here’s the passage where God is describing the future to the first humans:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Obviously the references are to agriculture, which has been a major way human beings have earned their living historically; but the dislocation in our work lives carries over into all jobs. Human beings were made to live in harmony with God, with his life running through us. When we cut ourselves off from that source of life and health, we caused harm and trouble in every area of our lives, work not least. And now we suffer the consequences.
It Isn’t Going to Stay This Way
So much for the bad news. The good news is, it isn’t going to stay this way forever. At the same time God foretold the mess we would make of human life and work, he also promised us a way out. He himself would come as a human being, born of a woman, to live among us as one of us and to break the power of evil over us all. And that’s exactly what he did when he was born 2000 years ago as the man Jesus. Jesus grew up working as a carpenter under his stepfather’s teaching, and then became a homeless traveling preacher. He knew what it was to work hard. His followers did too.
But his real work, the work he spoke of throughout his ministry, was his plan to suffer, die, and rise again from the dead. By doing this, he would break the power of evil and free us all to be people of God again. And that’s what he did. Now everyone who trusts in him is a part of God’s family and a coworker with him in remaking the world closer to what it is meant to be.
Christians and the Future of Work
So what does that mean for those of us who follow Jesus today? It means that among other things, we try to serve God through our work. First and foremost, we try to do a good job. We know that God isn’t going to accept crappy work from us. Doing a bad job but trying to cover it up with religious labels or activity is just not right.
It also means we see any good work—from running a country to running a software program to fixing a running toilet—as a gift from God that we get to take satisfaction in, even if there are many difficult aspects to it. The God of the universe wants us to participate in maintaining and improving his created world, and that fact is awesome. It is an encouragement to us whether we face work that appears very overwhelming, or very menial. It reveals meaning behind work that might otherwise feel meaningless.
Furthermore, we try to help others in the area of work. If you look at the bulletin boards of your local churches, you’ll doubtless find flyers and advertisements for help in the area of work. There are job training programs run by Christians; immigrant English lessons and job placement help; GED programs for those who need more education before they can find work.
You will also find Christians involved in activism—starting or helping in unions, trying to settle disputes, working to pass fair labor laws. All of this is our responsibility as we see it under God. It is what he wants us to do.
Clearly we are still a long way away from what work is supposed to be. We can’t fix everything—we let God be in charge of the ultimate solution—but we’re called to make a difference where we can, so more people can work, and can do work that builds up our world. We’re working on it (sorry about the pun!).