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The Design and Dignity of Work

For the next few months we are going to be doing a study of the way God desires our faith to interact and affect our chosen profession. For this we will be using Timothy Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor (2012). Tonight’s session covered the Design and Dignity of Work.

We lead off the discussion by sharing how we view our jobs in general – a delight, a drudgery or a necessary evil. We agreed that many people in society have a negative attitude about their occupation or workplace and dread going to work. But as physicians all of us, at least those present, expressed strongly positive attitudes about what we do and the rewards inherent in working in the healthcare field. We spoke briefly about how strongly we feel the desire to do this work. We then looked into this desire by reading what the Bible says about work in Gen1:26 – 2:1-3, 15. This is the end of the creation story and makes clear that God’s creation was work. He took great pleasure in his work and that he created man to do work. It was noted that man is the only part of creation that was given a job to do at their creation. Man was told to rule over the creation, care for it and, in Vs.15, he was placed in the garden to “work” it. This work was to occur in Paradise – before the fall. So work is not evil but part and parcel of our life in paradise. We discussed what this says about God’s attitude toward work and its meaning in our life. We agreed that, since work is something God is always at (John5:17) and we are made in his image, we are designed to be at work as well. This means it is a basic need and desire in man and is connected to God’s divine purpose for us.

Reinforcing this is the way we react when we are either out of work or can not work. A few members of the group have experienced this – mostly due to disabilities that have occurred in their lives. They shared how the inability to work strongly impacted their sense of purpose and self-worth. It is pointed out in Keller’s book how people confined to nursing homes often complain of their loss of a productive life, they have no work.

We discussed how we have a great capacity to work and how we are even told to work a lot. Exodus 20:9 says we are to work six days but rest the seventh. We also discussed how important it is to rest as well, that overwork in injurious and God displays that need by resting on the seventh day.

We then launched into a discussion of work being a major component of human dignity. We talked about the concept of being made in the image of God. Many expressed various views of this. Keller makes the point that being in God’s image implies we have his characteristics, but in a lesser form, we have the same purpose – to bring order out of chaos, we stand in for him to fulfill his work. Because we are standing in for God it means our work always has dignity, it is a small part of God’s work. Some members of the group question how some occupations can be felt to be dignified but we also discussed that no matter how menial the job it is one that society as a whole needs to have accomplished if it is fulfilling a societal purpose. This concept of work being dignified is counter cultural particularly when compared to the attitude of the ancient Greeks who considered all work to be evil and to avoided if at all possible. This attitude still exists to some extent in our society for certain areas of employment. Many people would rather be on unemployment than work at a job that they feel is “beneath them”

We finished out discussion by sharing our attitudes toward those in our workplace that are in the lower level or lower paying jobs. The strong desire to always treat these folks with the respect and kindness they deserve was emphasized by many of the group.

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