People are longing to find meaning in their daily work, paid and unpaid (e.g house chores, raising children, caring for parents, mowing the lawn, community involvement). As one young entrepreneur put it, “If my faith really matters, then it’s got to matter for my work”. When well over 50 marketplace leaders were asked how they could be better served by a leader of a Christian organisation, their answers were similar, “You can help me integrate my faith and my work”.
It is heartening therefore that not since the Protestant Reformation have we seen so much attention given to the topic of faith-work integration, after all most of us spend well over half of our waking lives working (if you include unpaid work)! But as a theologian and author asks in an article, is faith-work integration a trend or essential? Does work matters as much in the Bible as enthusiasts of integration of faith and work make out or are they merely projecting their enthusiasm into Scripture?
We need not go further in the Bible than Genesis to answer the questions. Right off the bat, we have the author describing God’s creation of the world as work. Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton writes, “God’s creative activity is described twice as his work. The Old Testament has two words for ‘labor’. The second word emphasizes labor that is raw and unskilled. The first – and the one used here – designates skilled labor, work that is performed by a craftsman or an artisan. Such is the measure of the finesse and professional skills of God’s work”.
In the beginning then, God worked. Furthermore, God revelled in it. Work was not beneath him. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…” (Genesis 1:31). As part of his good work, He creates human beings in his likeness. In the context of Genesis, God’s likeness is closely connected to God’s working. Notice God’s immediate instruction to them in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…”.
Keller points out that the word ‘subdue’ imply that in all that God had made, while good, it was largely undeveloped, with its potential requiring people to unlock through their labour. In Genesis 2:15, we have God placing human beings in the Garden of Eden ‘to work it and take care of it’. The opening narrative of Genesis then points to the centrality of work, both divine and human, that work was part of paradise. Work is not a necessary evil or demeaning. It is not secondary to ‘ministry in the church’. It is one of the many gifts of God, and one of the things essential to our sense of identity and purpose.
This understanding of work as Keller writes, ‘connected with divine, orderly creation and human purpose is distinct among the great faiths and belief systems of the world’. Faith and work matters to God.