This is the second of a six-part series exploring themes in Romans which I believe can act as a road or guide for us to follow on how the Christian faith can be lived in the workplace. The six themes include, the gospel attitude, the mind of fallen humanity, embracing our adoption, understanding and honoring authority, respecting differences, and women in leadership.
In his book, Letter to A Christian Nation, Sam Harris claimed the Christian faith is intellectually absurd, culturally archaic, and historically responsible for gross immoral acts. Harris believed that the Christian faith, like all forms of religion, will soon perish. While Harris was widely criticized for his condescending and short-sided thinking, he is not the first, nor will he be the last to announce the end of faith, the “death of god” (Nietzsche) or a God who is real but hidden or silent (Schellenberg). And, while religious adherence is actually on the rise globally, according to Rodney Stark in his book The Triumph of Faith, for many Christians, the workplace feels secularized, like their living faith has been put to death or God is hidden or silent.
But the Bible points to a much different reality. Romans chapter one suggests that everyone, even Sam Harris, has at some point had knowledge that there is a God, because God’s “invisible qualities and divine nature are seen from what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). In reality, the living God does not hide but is making himself known to humans. Yet, if this is so, it engenders a few questions like: Is there any secular space? Why don’t more people embrace God if they know him? Or, why do many people ignore or even deny God?
The Impact of the Fall
While each person has an innate knowledge that there is a God from the created order (Rom. 1:20), they do not respond to God the creator (v. 21), but instead redirect their attention to the created order (v. 25). Without proper responsiveness in honoring God as creator, which orients the rest of a person’s life, human beings are left trying to make sense of, and flourish in, the created order but without God, a much-needed reference point. The result is that they lose their way (vv. 26-28).
John Calvin captures this in the opening words of his classic systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion with the following, “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” The suggestion from Calvin is that humans have the best understanding of their purpose and meaning when they have a relationship with God.
Rebecca Manley Pippert, author of Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World, echoes this sentiment by saying that we may have only been truly human in our originally created, unfallen state in the garden of Eden, and now, only through Christ, can we get a view of what restored humanity looks like.
This is quite different than how many people today consider themselves. When people make a mistake, they excuse their behavior by saying, please forgive me, I am only human. This is the present condition of fallen, unredeemed humanity, where life is not centered on the creator God, and it turns back to creation alone to find meaning and purpose. The result is that a person’s thinking and desires become corrupted, they elevate the importance of creation, and God moves into the shadows of their minds.
A few years back my wife and I were in Puerto Rico for a business conference. For dinner, we walked a few blocks from our hotel and some locals suggested a well-known burger place. When we arrived, I asked the owner which burger was his favorite and ordered it. The dining experience that followed remains one of the very best food experiences I have ever had. When the burger arrived, I snapped a picture to post a review—it looked wonderful. With my first and every bite that followed, I experienced unmatched culinary ecstasy.
After we returned home, I looked at the responses to my review and many of the comments thanked me for steering them to this burger place, but some comments were more dramatic. One of my favorite responses was from a European couple from who said that the hamburger was an absolute good and I should open my own burger stand. I laughed, but thought I am sure they did not mean the hamburger was a good or the end to which people should set their lives, but it stirred my thinking.
The fallen mind sees the hamburger as an end, a good in itself, a thing to orient all of one’s activities, it provides meaning and purpose for one’s life and ultimately a thing to worship. The hamburger, or any created thing, becomes an idol.
A career, exceptional gifts of leadership, reaching your professional goals or business success, are all good things; but without a life that understands that these gifts are from God and are good because he is good, we lose our way and God moves to the shadows of a person’s mind. Or as Saint Clare of Assisi put it, “For he who loves temporal things, loses the fruit of love of God.”
But, there is a remedy to keep your life centered on God the creator.
Responding to God’s Revelation
A.W. Tozer in his book, The Pursuit of God, suggests that while the saints of old differed greatly in background, temperament, personality and maturity, they all held the same common attitude—a responsiveness to God; that is, when God revealed himself to them, they developed the habit of responding. So, the Christian mind also sees the hamburger as good, but the goodness is because it was made by a good God for his and our pleasure; with each bite, we thank and glorify the creator who has made all things out of his goodness. For the Christian, the good in creation calls up praise for the one who is an absolute good.
Many years ago, as part of an academic program, I had to spend a semester being guided by a spiritual director. She was a very successful and respected executive at a large hospital, and one of the busiest people I have ever met. But in the midst of her busy lifestyle, there was a restedness, a calm, and a peace that I wish I had. After meeting with her a few weeks, I realized how she was doing this. Each time we met, she asked me the same questions.
- Where do you see and celebrate the goodness of God’s creation and return thanks to him?
- In these good things, where is God moving and what work is he calling you to do?
Her balance of professional success and a rested life was because she was daily practicing what A.W. Tozer suggested, intentionally looking for and responding to the God who makes himself visible in our daily lives.
Editor’s note: Learn more biblical principles for life in Be Transformed: Essential Principles for Personal and Public Life, available in English and Spanish (Cómo Ser Transformado: Principios Para Conectar La Vida Personal y Pública).
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