I met Christ in December of my senior year in high school, so I was just a baby Christian when I was making crucial decisions on what career field I should pursue in college. I did not know then what I know now about the intrinsic value of work in its many forms.
Let me share what was going through my head at the time.
Weighing the Eternal Value of Certain Fields
I have been an animal lover my entire life. My mom was a big influence. I especially loved frogs, toads, salamanders, lightning bugs (or fireflies, depending on where you are from), bunnies, and owls. I read several books about animals. Way back in elementary school, I began to consider becoming a wildlife biologist. I thought that this might be an interesting, fun, and rewarding career.
However, when I became a Christian in the midst of making major college and career decisions, I began to question my interest in this field. I sensed that since there may not be animals in heaven, perhaps I should redirect my career path to being a teacher. I knew that people had eternal value.
What I have learned is that just because something does not last into eternity, it does not mean that it has no temporal value. Moreover, people do have eternal value. Therefore, if we wish to pursue a career that meets people’s needs and brings shalom and healing to our world, it is of value in God’s economy. It matters to God.
In the book that changed my life, Your Work Matters to God, authors Sherman and Hendricks conclude:
What “really matters” to God is that the various needs of His creation be met. One of those needs is the salvation of people, and for that He sent Christ to die and He sends the Church to tell the world about what Christ did. But in addition to salvation—obviously a need with eternal implications—mankind has many other needs. Just because many of them are temporal needs does not diminish their importance to God, nor does it diminish the value of the work done to meet those needs. In fact, God thinks they are important enough to equip a variety of people with various abilities to meet those needs. Furthermore, in meeting the legitimate needs of people, a worker is serving people who obviously have eternal value. In other words, the product of the work may be temporal but those who benefit from the work are eternal. So we find that whether or not the product of our labor lasts into eternity, our labor is full of eternal implications.
So Could I have Studied Biology?
Let us begin in the book of Genesis. On the fifth day, God made all of the animals, in sea, air, and land (Gen. 1:20-23.) In Gen. 1:26-28, we find the creation mandate (also called the cultural mandate). Here, God lays out His plan to bless the humans who were made in His image by giving them a critical mission to rule over the animals (v. 26), be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (v. 28). The implication is that humans do not exploit the creation, but use it as it was designed and be good stewards of the environment. They were to nurture it and protect it.
Later, Adam’s first job was naming the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Adam had to identify the animals’ characteristics in order to give them proper names. Perhaps he was our first wildlife biologist!
Backing up, in Genesis 2:9, we learn that “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” It is not a stretch to think that the animals that God made were also created for a variety of purposes. We see this in Scripture and throughout history. God made some animals for food. Others help us work (i.e., horses). Some are used for transportation (i.e., donkeys). Some were used by Jesus as a sermon illustration (i.e., birds). A great fish rescued a wayward prophet (Jonah). Some were made for just plain fun (i.e., the platypus). Based on this quick overview, I believe the work of those who study and care for animals has instrumental as well as intrinsic value.
How Does God Guide Us in Our Career Decisions?
I absolutely believe that one of the ways God leads us where He wants us to go is to use our interests. Lee Hardy, author of The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work, concurs. His challenge is that “we ought to take seriously the doctrine of divine providence: God himself gives us whatever legitimate abilities, concerns, and interests we in fact possess. These are his gifts, and for that very reason they can serve as indicators of his will for our lives.”
In closing, I want to make sure I am clear. I do not want to go back to 1976 and take a different career path. I merely want to say that I could have taken a different one and God still would have used me to glorify Him just as much as He has in the unique journey I have been on over the past forty years in the fields of math education, ministry, and the military.
The words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28 certainly apply here. By His grace, God worked all things out for my good and for His Kingdom. He will most certainly do so for you, too.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about the value of our work in Hugh Whelchel’s seminal book, How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, now available on Audible!