At Work & Theology 101

Can Non-Believers See God Through the Biblical Meaning of Work?

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At their core, people are all basically the same.

Whether we’re believers in Christ or not, we are all God’s image bearers and also sinners, not perfect.

Being God’s image bearers, we all want to work and create. We love to innovate or improve how something works. We get great satisfaction from a job well done or fixing what was broken.

Also, we all inherently feel our work should have meaning beyond earning a living—be about something bigger than ourselves. We want a sense that even the tedium in our jobs serves a purpose. We want to make a positive impact on the world and collaborate with others to achieve a common goal.

Although misguided, even Marx recognized these universal human desires. As Steve Garber of The Washington Institute observes:

What Marx promised the alienated workers of mid-19th century England was that the work of their hands mattered to history. While he profoundly misread the human heart, and countless heartaches came from his thesis, he did speak to a deep human longing, viz. that we all hunger for our work to matter…We all want that, everyone everywhere.

So, if believers and non-believers have this common ground in their longings about work, can God be revealed “naturally” in the workplace? How do you help your non-believing co-workers connect the dots between their work and a loving God who has a perfect design for their lives and who desires a relationship with them (Ps. 8:3-4)?

Let’s look at those “dots” and how they speak truth into the lives of believers and non-believers alike because we all inherently have the same longings and questions about our work and existence.

1. The physical world was created with purpose.

God gave us the physical world to cultivate, care for, innovate with, maximize the benefit of, and benefit from. When we look out the window and see the needs of the world, there’s a sense within us that we are supposed to do something about it. Theologians call this the cultural mandate and it is expressed in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

This is our basic job description as humans under a God who created us, loves us, and has given us his creation to manage, or steward. All legal, legitimate work is covered under this basic job description—from farming to forensic science.

2. There is an interdependence and connectedness about all the things in the physical world.

Plants require sun, rain, wind, interaction with insects and animals for reproduction; the existence of the food chain; humans have different and complementary gifts and talents that give us comparative advantage and increase everyone’s productivity for the benefit of all. These are a testimony to a God who equips and provides and, ultimately, our dependence on him (Gen 1:29-30Isa. 55:10; Matt 6:25-29; Matt. 13:32).

3. There is a discoverable order in the physical world.

Every bit as reliable as day and night, seasons (Gen. 1:14-15), and gravity, best-practice principles for human flourishing were woven by God into creation. They speak to how to manage our behavior (government) and manage what God’s given us to use (economics).

4. Everything God tells us to do in his word, if we will trust him and obey, will result in good.

This is true in our own lives as individuals, in relationships, society, work life, and our world. (I’m not talking perfection; sin makes this impossible. But obedience leads to blessings.) Deep down, we all know that true flourishing accompanies right living, and we can see evidence of this truth in the world. Sometimes, we don’t have to go further than our own families.

5. Caring about creation at all is evidence of God.

If there were no God and no absolute right and wrong, why would we care about broken things, sickness, or the concept of justice, or desire jobs that allowed us to address these things? Wanting to fix broken things is evidence of God’s imprint on all of us—an innate, inexplicable certainty of the way things “ought to be.” (All of us are also part of what’s broken in the world. That’s the sin part, whether we’ve admitted it to ourselves or not.) As Cornelius Plantinga remarks in Not the Way Things Should Be: A Breviary of Sin:

…secularists…like everybody else, do note, resent, and augment injustice, lawlessness, envy, meanness and other indignities.

These truths, and probably more, form a message that speaks to those who already know God, but it is also a message of good news to those who don’t yet know God.

  • For those who already know God, we have agreed with God that we are sinners and we have witnessed transformation in our own souls through the work of the Holy Spirit and our willing participation. But we long to know this isn’t something reserved for church or Sundays; that God is sovereign over our work, play, and rest and that there is purpose in all the parts of our lives.
  • For those who don’t yet know God, they sense their lives should have significance and purpose; they believe there is an ultimate “good” and want to somehow contribute to that. God is the “Yes” in answer to this question and the reason why they have this desire.

Note that we’re not tackling the question of sin directly here, but these are baby steps in the direction of God through natural revelation. We can tell them there is a God in the universe who is in charge of the macro- and micro-level details of life—their lives as individuals, their families, communities, nations, and the world. And, as the Lord leads, we can tell them this same God has taken it upon himself to fix the things that are broken in this world (including us)—and, because of Christ, invites us all to join him in that restoration work.

As we work alongside those who don’t yet know God, we can serve together knowing our motivation comes from the same place. As the source of all good things, God put that desire in all his image bearers. We can pray and trust that he will be revealed as we do our jobs honestly and to the best of our ability, serve the common good, maximize the potential of the resources we’ve been given to work with, and live out dependence and trust in him for all the results.


Editor’s note: Read more about God’s big picture story in creation in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

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  • Matt Kuchers

    Great, succinct article on the value of our everyday work ~ connecting the dots between the cultural mandate helping to fulfill the great commission which then in turns helps to bring to fruition the restoration of all things in anticipation of our King’s return.

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