In the secular world, the attitude toward work is best expressed by Adam Smith, that father of western economic theory – work functions in capitalism as a means of attending wealth and ease. We work so that the rest of our life can be better. But we, as Christians, are called to put our faith at the center of everything that we do, even our work, i.e. to integrate our faith and work.
By integrating faith and work some mean rules of ethical behavior that our faith imposes on our work practices, such as honesty, respect for customers, trustworthiness, fairness, etc. Another opinion is that it means we should try to evangelize at work, either explicitly or implicitly (by providing a good example of Christian behavior). However, there are several problems with such understandings:
- Ethics has substantial overlap between religions and even secular law, so there is not much special about Christian ethics in terms of what actual dos and don’ts.
- Ethics establishes a very superficial connection between work and faith, where faith provides a set of boundaries, operating within which is considered ethical. But faith has no influence on what happens within these boundaries
- Ethics tells you what to do without explaining why. This makes it difficult to comply with when it may hurt you financially.
- Trying to evangelize at work might be against your company’s rules. If one hopes to provide a great example that will attract non-believers to Christianity, that is a noble goal. However, it is very likely that work pressures, stress, conflicts, may actually make you a poor example.
I think that a better way to understand the relationship between our faith and work is to remember that God has chosen us to be a holy nation to represent him here on Earth. This means two things:
a) He may use us to accomplish his work
b) Since non-believers will be making judgment about Him by looking at what we do, the purpose of our work, in addition to sustaining us materially, should be to give people a correct impression of what God is about, what He is doing and what He wants us to do.
What is God’s work and what would He want others to understand about him through our actions? God creates, either something from nothing (only God can do this!) but often something orderly out of something disorderly. In fact, the latter is something Adam and Eve were asked to do – take care of the garden, to maintain its order, see Gen 2:15. The fall of men led to several new problems – separation of people from God (Gen 3:8), conflict between people (Gen 3:12), conflict between people and nature (Gen 3:17-18), and disintegration of creation – pain and death (Gen 3:16,19). Since the fall, the God’s work is to do undo the effect of the fall – bring people back to him, back to each other, restore the creation, or reEden the world, as Tim Keller once put it.
If this is true, except for a few obvious examples like a criminal or a drug dealer, there is no such thing as good or bad work. Yes, we often view full time ministry, helping the poor or disadvantaged, counseling, as more “Christian” or more useful to God. But working in the financial industry helps to bring order into our economical dealing with each other. Insurance helps us to pool the risks and hence deal with difficult situations in life, like disease or a loss of family provider. Creating music is about bringing beauty out of chaos of sounds and allows us to better understand the beauty of God’s creation. The doctor’s job is to bring a falling apart physical body back into unity.
Yet, despite general goodness of almost every work, human sin can make it give a wrong impression about God or go against God’s purpose. How exactly this might happen should be studied on a case-by-case basis. Consider, for example, marketing, which is often looked down upon in the Christian church. Negatively, marketing is often defined as “Creating need in somebody else for your profit, whether they need it or not”. But on the positive side, marketing is communication – its goal is to be heard and understood. God’s revelation through the written word, Bible, can be consider a case of marketing. But here are few potential things that can go wrong:
- Not every need that marketing tries to satisfy is good. Some needs lead to unraveling of creation rather than reweaving it back. Take smoking for example.
- The need might be fine, but is marketed through wrong channels. For example, there is nothing wrong with trying to look beautiful, desire for beauty is inherent to all of us. But the beauty products are often marketed through making women feel inferior about their own bodies, something that clearly goes against God’s intention.
- The need might be fine, but may be over-marketed, which may make people buy more than they need or buy something they don’t need. This can provide a fertile ground for sin: greed, idolatry, pride.
- Misrepresentation of the product by highlighting its positive sides and avoiding the negative, which basically amounts to lying.
- Promoting consumerism and competition. It is through marketing that we become aware of all possible providers, which increases competition. This can have both positive and negative aspects. On one hand, competition is good as it improves the quality and reduces the cost. But it often leads to over-work, break-down of family relationships, etc.