It’s lunchtime. A young mother sits on the bench, painting her eight-month-old’s face with food—that mouth is hard to find. With her spare third eye she watches her toddler negotiate the finer points of park etiquette with the oversized gorilla who isn’t interested in sharing the springy rocker thing—he’s four! For just a moment she gives herself permission to dream about being the council worker digging a trench on the other side of the park. What a life!
Oblivious to his starring role in another’s dreams, the labourer leans on his shovel and watches the suit run through the gardens. The suit isn’t in his suit because it’s lunchtime and he’s part of the get-sweaty brigade. The trench digger mumbles something to himself about ‘an honest day’s labour’ as he attacks the trench with renewed vigour.
The suit spies his old work colleague managing her two charges and jogs over. “How’s the holiday?” he asks, never having spent more than two minutes with a toddler in his life. They exchange pleasantries and both of them notice the priest talking earnestly to the old couple on the other bench. (They can tell he’s a priest because he’s dressed in black and has a funny collar.) They both agree that he should get a real job. The suit jogs off as the toddler breaks into a howl. The negotiations haven’t gone well.
This scenario is, of course, entirely fictitious. But it helpfully raises some of the difficulties that we face when it comes to thinking about work. First: work is so closely tied to our sense of self-worth that it’s a difficult subject for us to be objective about. What God thinks that work is, and what he thinks about the work that I do, cannot be separated in our hearts from the very significance and value of our lives. As a result, many of us have ideas about work that we cherish as Christian, whether we have examined them biblically or not.
Second, and in an entirely different direction, when we speak about work, what exactly are we speaking about? Is the suit working when he runs? Would it be different if he were a triathlete? Can the young mum really call it work when she does it for nothing? Is mental labour different to physical labour? What makes work work?
And finally, into the midst of all of this, if our purpose is to speak biblically and Christianly about work, we enter yet another minefield. Is there a distinction between ‘gospel work’ and ‘secular work’? Is all work the same, and does it always glorify God?
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