January 30, 2023 A Religious and Political Commentary

The Soul of Work

The Washington Post reports that in our nation there are still 8.2 million jobs left to fill (May, 2021). That means that a lot of our neighbors aren’t at work. We’ve all seen the consequences: understaffed restaurants or restaurants staffed with frustrated employees who missed the customer service class at orientation. Supply chains are in shambles and shelves left unstocked. Why?

Some folks have taken advantage of generous unemployment benefits and hefty stimulus checks and find it more profitable to stay home. Others are dealing with childcare issues and can’t get back to work until the country’s fully open. Still others are simply scared.

But we’re discussing much more than economics. We’re discussing people’s souls and their mental/emotional health. We’re talking about work.

One of the best realistic video game creators once said, “The key to a good video game is not just graphics. …Ideally players must face a decision every eight seconds and certainly not more than every thirty seconds. And when they make a decision, players have to feel as though they have a high possibility of failing with that decision. Yet the game metrics have to be set up so that there is actually the highest probability that they will succeed.”

Players need to make many decisions. Make it possible for the player to lose but set the player up for success. That video game designer doesn’t know it, but he might as well have been describing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

God made humans to work. He gave us opposable thumbs, muscles that strengthen when stressed, a nervous system more sophisticated than any computer network, and minds with an amazing capacity for solving problems.  Form follows function…We were created for work. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it (Gen 2:15).”

Work existed, as it does now, to provide for our families. Adam worked and cared for the garden, farmed, and kept orchards. But work is also an outlet for other things. Work helps us create community, be creative, give back to others, and represent God. Work does all these things for us and in the process, brings great joy and fulfillment. God intends for work to add to life in several ways.

First, we were created to be stewards of God’s creation.  We are to take personal responsibility for what happens in and to this world and the people in it, as well as business, government, and church.

Second, work brings dignity. God created humans as decision-making creatures. No matter where we work – whether in business, government, the non-profit sector, or the home – we are called to act like creatures who have been created in God’s image and who treat other humans as fellow “image bearers.”

Finally, as Christians, we have the privilege and responsibility of restoring work to its original purpose and of restoring one another as well.  The result of doing that is joy, a deep, abiding, inner peace that no circumstance can take away, because we are doing God’s will and functioning in his presence.

Some, if not all, of that has been lost. The moment we lost it, we call the Fall… shorthand for “the fall from grace.” Work became “toil” and was done “by the sweat of the brow.” There were now thorns and thistles where there had previously been none.

Now we call work “the grind.” We still use work to meet needs, but when a third party steps in and meets those needs without work and many of our neighbors choose to stay home, what do we lose as individuals? What do we lose as a nation?

C.S. Lewis warns us about our dependence on government. In his article “Is Progress Possible?” he states, “For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land.”

When we choose handouts over work, we give away our role as stewards of our cities and nation. We lose the dignity that comes from a hard day’s labor. And we lose our joy. Look around. Don’t you see it?

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