Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For September 5 weekender, 2015
(photo courtesy of Khunaspiz at freedigitalphotos.net)
David W. Hegg
(Note: This column was written for Labor Day. However, work matters more than one day a year, so read on!)
By 1885 the first Monday in September was being celebrated as Labor Day in most industrial centers of America to highlight the contributions workers had made to the prosperity and strength of our country. Over time the traditions of parades, barbeque, and baseball games have come to characterize the day, as millions stay home from work to enjoy family and friends.
Though not widely known, the American Federation of Labor put forth a resolution at their annual convention in 1909 adopting the Sunday before Labor Day as Labor Sunday. They wanted to cast a spotlight on the spiritual aspects of the labor movement, and of work itself. By so doing they were acknowledging an ethical principle largely lost today, namely, the connection between God and work.
Today too many see work as a necessary evil, a time-measured commodity we exchange for a paycheck. It becomes a means to an end, and increasingly we see many attempting to find jobs that make the most amount of money with the least amount of work.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who become so consumed by their work they ignore important areas of life such as family, health, and beauty. Their work becomes all, leaving no appetite for the things that actually make living worthwhile.
To put work in correct perspective it must be seen as having purposes that go beyond personal income. If our hours of employment are merely a commodity we exchange for money, what can we say about our lives? Are we addicted to the workplace and the hope of promotions and monetary reward? If so, we have bought into the myth that the best things in life are things, and we are headed for a sad eventuality. The drive to accumulate has become overpowering in our society as success is now measured, not by the quality of our lives, but the quantity of our stuff. And, sadly, few are ever satisfied. Enough is seldom enough. But the original purposes behind work are far more satisfying than this.
In Genesis 1,2 we find God himself was the first worker. After creating all things, he rested “from the work he had done.” When he created the first man – Adam - he put him to work in the garden to “work and protect it.” The biblical story is clear: work was given from God to man as a privilege with three great purposes.
First, work is intended to be a positive contribution to society. The first great attribute of work is not income, but output that adds value to others, increases the stability of the society, and in so doing, brings the pride of accomplishment to the worker. The term “work ethic” has everything to do with the deep conviction that our diligence and excellence at work makes us all better. This means we must work hard to benefit others.
Second, work is intended to imitate God. When Adam went to work it was actually a way of imitating his creator. Among the early settlers of our great country work was actually considered a means of worship, a way of demonstrating awe and appreciation for God by doing their very best in every aspect of their labor. After all, he was the original workman, and it was their honor to follow his lead. This means we work hard to honor God.
Lastly, work does bring a personal satisfaction if it is pursued with the first two purposes in mind. When we labor to provide goods and services that benefit others and strengthen our society, and when we do our work to the glory of God, we will enjoy a satisfying sense of purpose and accomplishment that transcends the compensation we receive. This means we work hard to find personal fulfillment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Workers deserve to be compensated, and we all understand work to be the noblest way to feed our families and pay our bills. But when work becomes the tyrant that rules us rather than the tool we use wisely, our labor no longer will satisfy our deepest longings. Like drinking saltwater, our foolish addiction to labor for all the wrong reasons will only exacerbate the unhealthy state of our souls.
So, on this Labor Day weekend, take some time to think about the place of work in your life, in your family, and in your ethical system. It might be as simple as deciding whether you live to work, or work to live. Don’t let work become your god. Instead, let God inform, order, and energize your life and your work. After all, when you spend your life with God as your boss, your retirement will be out of this world.