Theology of Work

A CNN.com article this week caught my eye. It seems that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is taking flack for leaving work at 5:30 p.m. in order to spend time with her children. Author Pamela Stone writes in the CNN article that Sandberg has been following this practice for as long as she has had children, seven years, but it’s only been in the last two years that she’s been “brave enough to talk about it publicly.”

Stone continues: “Judged against powerful professional time norms, where long hours and constant availability are taken as proxies for commitment and competence (despite evidence to the contrary), Sandberg is what sociologists would call a ‘time deviant,’ which is anyone who works other than full-time plus” – leaving early, working part-time or job-sharing. Evidence reveals that working flexibility in the corporate world is a career killer that leads to dead ends and reduced pay.

The article focuses its conclusions on the need for flexibility in the workplace and the burden that women, in particular, face trying to balance motherhood and career and cultural expectations. I applaud Stone’s observations, but as a Christian I am concerned about the deeper, theological discussion of work.

Genesis tells us that God creates human beings to work. Work is not the result of sin entering world, but is God’s original plan for His children. Work as a means of expressing our creative energy is one of the ways in which we reflect the image of the One who loves to create. Unfortunately, the tentacles of sin skew our view of work. Work is too often a means of gaining for ourselves—wealth, power, influence, affirmation—it has become another idol on our seemingly limitless shelf that leads us to believe that if we just do enough we can find fulfillment, contentment, joy and blessings, which is why we cannot discuss work without bringing Sabbath into the conversation.

The principle of Sabbath is no more a result of the fall than work: God observes Sabbath long before our first parents sin. Because of sin, however, Sabbath and rest become central to God’s teaching for His people. The forms of the word Sabbath are used 164 times in the Scriptures, forms of the word rest almost 350 times. God knows that our struggle to idolize work causes us to think of Him as just a bit less necessary to our lives, thus cutting ourselves off from the only source of fulfillment, contentment, joy, blessing and every other desire we yearn to experience.

My concern is that the church has too often bought into the culture’s idea of work: we reward people who never stop—we hire them, we promote them, we make models of them—because they get things done, they ooze success, they make us (and we think, God) look good. We believe that getting the results we want and that we believe God wants is all that matters, and if you must work yourself into the ground getting those results, if you must sacrifice family reaching the goal, then it’s okay because the end of the journey is what’s most important.

We have been duped by the subtle tempter of our souls. God is concerned about results but not nearly as much as He is concerned with the process, the decisions we make on the way.

Let me reiterate: work is good; work is important; work is a gift of God; laziness is not God’s plan. Work that rules our lives never pleases God no matter what results we accomplish. God wants us to work…and to rest. God wants us to labor…and to play. God wants us to create…and to do nothing but ponder who He is and what He has done.