We are continuing our Genesis series including the topic of work. It is sadly highly relevant in these weeks as more and more people are losing their jobs in the economic fallout of the COVID crisis. The Bible affirms the value and significance of our daily work. He has invested work with worth and it is therefore very spiritually damaging and debilitating to be “laid off”.
The fact that there is an intrinsic value in work is quite countercultural in a society where work can often be seen as a means to an end. Do we work to live, or do we live to work? From the dawn of time mankind is told to” work the garden and take care of it”(Gen 2.15) The Bible’s view of work is that it is there for the fulfilment of the worker and the good of the community.
3000 years ago, Solomon wrote “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work” and later “There is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his toil” (Ecc 2.24 and 3.22). In the economy and culture of the Old Testament work is undertaken by the community for the community and the land itself is described in productive terms like “flowing with milk and honey” The social rules of the Old Testament involved sharing the harvest with the poor.
When we move from that ancient culture to today’s working environment, we have serious tensions and issues. Is there a tension, for example, on the one side with the aim of business to make a profit, declare a dividend and invest in research and development, and on the other side to pay fair wages and serve the public good? It is remarkable that the founders of the Trade Union movement were committed Christians.
The global economy is dominated by quite ruthless multinationalism. Incessant work patterns damage health and relationships. We live in a culture where to be busy is to have moral worth. One economist wrote “The true cost of labour is not measured by what you pay but by what you get from what you pay”.
There are of course spin offs to the Genesis account, including the impact of the Fall – work becomes a burden and not a blessing. There is also the significance of the sabbath and the notion of rest and the whole issue of work life balance!
What is the Christian response to these challenging issues? Perhaps the COVID crisis is a powerful reminder that we need to re-examine our working priorities. Perhaps we need not just to re-examine but also to re-evaluate what our life priorities actually are. Our God given capacity to work is one way in which, as the Bible puts it, “we can renew the face of the earth”. There is such a thing as HOPE. We are promised a “new heavens and a new earth” where a return to Eden is finally accomplished.