In the last few weeks, I have participated in many discussions about wealth creation, and as a result, it seems to me that there needs to be a discussion about work, asking: Is work a means to an end or an end in and of itself?
In my discussions, overall, there seems to be agreement that wealth creation is a means to an end – the flourishing of all. We don’t create wealth just to create wealth. What we do with it matters and the Bible states pretty clearly that we are to be generous and not to hoard.
Most also agree that that we are created to work. We serve a working God, who continues to work to this day, and Genesis 1 and 2 (as well as many other passages) makes it clear that work is our part of being co-creators with God. As Dorothy Solle says (in To Work and To Love), “First creation is unfinished. Creation continues; it is an ongoing process…Human work is the act of working with God to fashion a more just world.”
But in light of these two positions, do we view work as an end or a means to an end? In a capitalist economy where efficiency and productivity are emphasized, are jobs created for the fulfillment of a person or the supplying of a need? Do we prioritize work over the worker? We often consider the impact that our work has on the world, but how often do we ask the question, “What does the work do to the worker?” Another way to put it, do we value labor over capital or capital over labor?
There has been and continues to be great conflict over this, which also enters into the way we view economics or wealth creation.
To that end, I have been reading a book called The Church and Work by Joshua R. Sweeden who shares a number of different opinions on this. Let me share just a few with you:
Miroslav Volf, theologian and author, says, “If I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end in itself.”
Schumacher writes that “a person’s work is undoubtedly one of the most decisive formative influences on his character and personality.”
Sayers, in Vocation in Work, states: “The great primary contrast between the artist and the ordinary worker is this: the worker works to make money, so that he may enjoy those things in life which are not his work and which his work can purchase for him; but the artist makes money by his work in order that he may go on working…For the artist, there is no distinction between working and living. His work is his life, and the whole of his life – not merely the material world about him…his periods of leisure are the periods when his creative imagination may be most actively at work…he wants money not in order that he may stop working and go away and do something different, but in order that he may indulge in the luxury of doing some part of his work for nothing…When the artist rejoices because he has been relieved from the pressure of economic necessity, he means that he has been relieved – not from the work, but from the money.”
Karl Marx and Adam Smith had differing views on work. Both highly regarded work and placed significant value on it for the benefit of society, but Marx emphasized how work shapes humanity and Smith emphasized work as a source of economic wealth.
St. Benedict collapses the means and the end of work by saying that it is not only instrumental for life, but part of the purpose and intention of life.
To be honest, I’m not trying to answer some of these questions as much as I am longing to hear the church address some of these questions. The church needs to have a voice in this dialogue, impacting social, political, and economic realities. Sweeden writes,
“When the church remains ancillary in theological considerations of good work, the church’s influence in shaping the way Christians understand and embody good work is diminished. When good work is connected to abstract theological proposals rather than to a concrete community, there is little expectation for the church to reconstruct dominant notions or practices of work among its members or its context. In other words, the church becomes just another place where theological principles can be propagated – with only slightly more impetus to provide just wages and working conditions – instead of the place where members are nurtured into practices and understandings of work corresponding to theological convictions. The danger is that the church becomes inconsequential for the understanding and practice of good work…The question inevitably arises, if the church does not ground Christian understandings of good work, who or what does?”
What are your thoughts on this?
PS – Tuesday, August 3 begins our “Tuesdays in August” with DML Marketplace Ignitor Campaign. Watch your email for more details and we hope that you will join us as our partners share some exciting updates of the impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their churches and communities.