Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where Work Finds Its Ultimate Meaning

Bangkok

Yale University theologian Miroslav Volf, in A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, writes about "work." About what we "do for a living." If our work is only defined as what we do "for a living," then our lives are impoverished and, ultimately, meaningless. 

Why work at all?

One reason is: for the "flourishing of communities." Volf writes: When we work for the well-being of communities, our work acquires a richer texture of meaning than when we work just for ourselves. We are then not only self-seeking; we are living for the benefit of others. And as we read in Scripture, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)." (Kindle Locations 6510652)

This is good, but even this is not enough to give our work and lives their proper meaning. 

Volf states:

"If our own well-being and the well-being of community are all there is to working, would not our working in some sense be like building sandcastles on the seashore? It is meaningful as long as the activity and its results last, but it’s ultimately futile. A tide comes and washes away all the hard work, leaving no trace of it. If there were no more to our work than the benefit to ourselves and our communities, rapacious time would swallow us and the fruits of our labor, and our work would remain ultimately meaningless. Our work can find its ultimate meaning when, in working for ourselves and for community, we work for God." (Kindle Locations 654-659)

What is the relationship of God to our work? Volf makes four points.
  1. "God is, in a sense, our employer." Jesus-followers work for God. We serve God, ultimately.
  2. "We... think of our work as not just fulfilling God’s commands but achieving God’s purposes in the world." (Kindle Locations 664-665)
  3. "In our work we cooperate with God, and that gives meaning to our work." (Kindle Locations 670-671)
  4. "Finally, God makes sure that none of what is true, good, and beautiful in our work will be lost." (Kindle Locations 678-679; here Volf sounds Kantian.)
Volf concludes: "The work of each one of us is, then, a small contribution to the grand tapestry of life, which God is weaving as God created the world, is redeeming the world, and will consummate the world. This is the ultimate meaning of our work." (Kindle Locations 685-687)

(Without God, welcome to Camus's myth of Sysyphus, or Bertrand Russell's "foundation of unyielding despair.")