At Work & Theology 101

Continuing God’s Work of Creation

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Editor’s note: Russell Gehrlein was a guest on the syndicated radio program The Plumb Line, hosted by Jay Rudolph, on Monday, March 11. Russell and Jay discussed several of the faith and work concepts found in Russell’s book, Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence In Our Profession. Below is a partial transcript of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. We invite you to read part 1 of this conversation or listen to the full conversation. 

What Am I Going to Do?

JR: You start [the book] off, interestingly, with your personal career journey. So I was kind of curious… Why do you start there?

RG: It’s important to know that my very atypical, unusual winding path of a career is not so atypical. I wanted to be able to identify with the average, ordinary Christian who just has an average, ordinary job. 

I had gone out of high school to college to get a math degree. Math education was what I wanted to do, and I actually did that for a few years. 

And then while I was in college, I was growing in my faith and sensed a call to youth ministry. As a math teacher I kind of had the desire to help  youth, but, maybe more specifically, maybe I thought that teaching the Bible was of more lasting value than teaching math. 

So after my wife graduated we went to Western Baptist Seminary. Going into the ministry I was a part-time youth pastor, but God closed that door for various reasons. 

Then it was like, “What am I going to do? I can’t go back to teaching. I’m kind of stuck here, I can’t finish seminary.” So, God opened a door. “Be all you can be” was the big slogan at the time in 1986. So that’s when I joined the Army. I thought, “y’know, I’ll do this for three years.” Here I am, it’s almost 38 years later, and I’m still with the Army. 

God is a Worker

JR: God is a worker. And from the very beginning his work started. And then he also rested, as you pointed out. You have a whole chapter, the third chapter of the book, that is entitled, “God is a Worker”. I’m just curious what you had to share about that. 

RG: I’ve been studying this for a long time, and I’ve got a lot of scripture references in this book, probably 300 to 400 references. But starting in Genesis, I see God being a creator. 

Let me pause before I go too much further. I’m very trinitarian. I tried to relate to each member of the Trinity in the way the Bible tells us to. So, I kind of break it down in this book, I show how God the Father works, how Jesus works, how the Holy Spirit works, and how they all kind of work together as well. It’s just kind of a unique approach. 

We see God the Father reflected in his creation. There’s an awful lot of references in the Psalms about God making and sustaining his creation. That’s really important. 

Skipping to the New Testament, we see that, in John 5:17, for example, Jesus said God is always at work, and God works all things out for good. In the gospels we see Jesus, he’s out there to finish the work his Father called him to do. 

And then the Holy Spirit works a work of regeneration in each of our hearts; he’s called our teacher, our comforter. So there’s a lot of action verbs to describe what God does in and amongst his people. 

God’s Purpose for Work

JR: “God’s Purposes for Work” is the title of chapter four of your book. And so I’m really interested to hear about this because God definitely has a purpose—and again, from the beginning up until the days that we’re living in—he has a purpose for our work. 

RG: Absolutely. And I have to give credit where credit is due. I started learning this stuff when I was a young sergeant in Korea all by myself, a couple of years in the Army, very much away from home. I wanted to go into ministry, but God closed that door. Here I was in the Army not understanding how God could use my job as a nuclear chemical biological specialist of all things… and not sure how God could use me and what God’s purposes were, and I read this book, Your Work Matters to God, and it changed my life. 

And so I borrowed their two-part plan. How they started the book is that work is intrinsically valuable—what [I] talk about in chapter three—because work is good because God is good, and, therefore, all work is good and workers are good and of value. 

And then they talk about [how] work has instrumental value. Work fulfills various purposes. It meets our physical needs, it gives us money so we can give it away, and then we can love our neighbors—and love God—through our work. 

Why Don’t You Do Something, God?

JR: The more you talk about this I just keep seeing work throughout the scriptures. You brought up work so we can make money to give away, and of course, the Bible talks about if anyone does not provide for the needs of their family, they’re worse off than an unbeliever, essentially. That comes from work as well. Providing for ourselves, providing for the needs of the poor and less fortunate; all of this comes as a part of the work we’re supposed to do. This whole concept of work is interwoven in every aspect of the Bible, isn’t it?

RG: Absolutely. I appreciate you bringing that up. I just discussed this chapter with a friend of mine… one of the great things about this chapter is we talk about [how] God meets human needs through work, through our work.

There was a song by Matthew West entitled, “Do Something”, and he’s mourning the world full of trouble, like widespread poverty and children sold into slavery and such and such, and he asks, “Why don’t you do something, God?”

And God says, “I did. I created you.”

That just grabs my heart, because God created each one of us, his creations, to continue his work of creation. When he created the world, it was perfect, but it wasn’t complete. So he asked us to be his coworkers and meet the mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of his creation. So we get to do that every day. 

Further readings on At Work & Theology 101

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