At Work & Theology 101

Work is Hard, Should We Seek Leisure Instead?

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According to the Wall Street Journal: “The COVID economic shock has unleashed unprecedented creative destruction, sharply accelerating the transformation that we once quaintly called the “future of work.” Others suggest that this new normal “Work 2.0” was inevitable.

With Millennials comprising most of today’s workforce, including their common demand for relaxed office environments and flexible schedules, businesses must continue to reorganize and restructure to attract and retain workers. The traditional corporate ladder has collapsed, leaving employees with little career progression without changing employers—career change seems to have become the new normal. A good retirement seems out of reach for many workers.

Most of us, if asked, “Why work?” would answer pragmatically: to pay our bills. Yet, our culture has promoted the long-term idea that we work so that someday we can stop. The concept of retirement revolves around withdrawing from one’s work or labor to enjoy life to the fullest without obligation, commitment, or worry. In other words, we work so that at some point, we do not have to work.

Why Wait for Retirement?

A recently popular proposal as an alternative to work is something called the universal basic income (UBI). UBI is simply the idea that the government gives all citizens or residents of the country a regular, unconditional sum of money independent of any other source of income, freeing them from the necessity to work. Advocates argue that the UBI has the potential to reduce poverty and expand individual freedom.

UBI is not a new idea. Thomas More mentions it in his 1516 book Utopia, and over the last 500 years, different versions of this idea have been proposed by Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Milton Friedman, Martin Luther King Jr., Friedrich Hayek, and Richard Nixon. In the late 1960s, the Nixon administration not only studied the idea but unsuccessfully tried to get it through Congress. Even in today’s polarized political climate, UBI has support on both sides of the political spectrum.

Both retirement and UBI stem from the old Greek idea that leisure is good and work is bad, but is that true? This brings us back to the question, “Why work?” Dorothy Sayers, in Creed or Chaos? suggests we have it backward:

… work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties…the medium in which he offers himself to God.

We Were Created by God to Work

We read in the second chapter of Genesis, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15) As Christians, we must realize that we are called to work for a higher purpose. To understand the purpose of our work, we need to know why we were created. We must understand what our work should accomplish and how, through this work, we can better steward all God has given us.

The Creator’s original objective in creation was to bring glory to Himself. We see this idea throughout the Bible. In the Book of Revelation, we read, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev 4:11) Just as a great painting reflects the glory of the master artist, God created everything to mirror His glory.

On the sixth day of creation, we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) As God looked out upon his finished creation, he saw that all the good things he created worked together extraordinarily. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. In accordance with God’s design, in the beginning, every aspect of creation was distinct, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything worked exactly as he intended and brought him great glory. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we find an essential biblical reality: the more things work the way God originally intended, the more he is glorified.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a longer article and is reprinted with permission from The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture. Read the full article here.

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