Good morning. This is working theology.
For centuries writers have argued over whether work is a good thing or a necessary evil. If you had your way, you’d retire today, right? Only if you were financially independent to retire early, or FIRE, as they say. Like Oscar Wilde, you might agree that “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”†
Theologians disagree. We were created to work. Traditional ideas about retirement—playing golf all day or lounging around or just traveling—fall flat compared to the joy that flows from work. It gives us meaning and purpose, relationships, and, hell, sometimes it’s just fun.
This is the main point of one of the most popular books on faith at work: Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor (with Katherine Leary Alsdorf). Here’s a summary.
Work is bad.
“One view,” Keller wrote, “is that work is a necessary evil. The only good work, in this view, is work that helps make us money so that we can support our families and pay others to do menial work. Second, we believe that lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity.”††
This was the view of the ancient Greeks, a view that has permeated how we think about work even today. Christian theology, on the other hand, has revolutionized this view throughout Western history.
Work is good.
Christianity believes that work is good, that not only were we created to enjoy and flourish in our work, but God is also a worker, a creator who enjoys his labor.
“It is hard for us today,” Keller continued, “to realize how revolutionary this idea has been in the history of human thinking.”
Even jobs we would consider beneath us are not beneath human dignity. Think about housecleaning: “Consider that if you do not do it—or hire someone else to do it—you will eventually get sick and die from the germs, viruses, and infections that will breed in your home.”†††
In this view, housecleaners are literally saving your life.
Every endeavor is meaningful.
The rest of the book explains how these ideas can transform the way you approach your daily work, from investment banking to mothering to picking up trash on the side of the road.
Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually.††††
In short, all work has meaning and purpose, even yours today.
Thanks for reading.
†Keith Thomas, ed., The Oxford Book of Work (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999), 6.
††Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor (New York: Penguin, 2016), 34.