In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller quotes Luc Ferry: “In the modern world-view, [work] becomes an arena for self-realization, a means not only of educating oneself but also of fulfillment….” As a result, work has gone from “being a good thing to being nearly a form of salvation.”
Salvation, Keller says, is something “we must have…so we treat it as nonnegotiable.” “If circumstances threaten to take it away, we are paralyzed with uncontrollable fear; if something or someone has taken it away, we burn with anger and struggle with a sense of despair.”
This appears to me an accurate description of how I, along with my colleagues and even fellow Christians around me, feel often about our work, though in varying degrees.
An excursus: I wonder if this is in part due to where I’ve lived for the past 17 years. I started out in Arlington County, Virginia, right outside Washington, DC, during and a bit after law school. Then I moved to the western part of the neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, and often eat, play & shop in the neighboring Loudoun County.
Now take a look at the top 3 richest counties in the US — Arlington, Fairfax & Loudoun. Goodness gracious. Maybe this explains why “work” is so important — too important — to so many of us (including Christians) in the area. We are surrounded by people who “succeeded” professionally at least from certain worldly perspective, and we don’t know how else to conceive of work!
So what to do?
Keller suggests it starts with the gospel providing an “alternate story line for our work” (“Reformed”). Then, our faith gives us a new “conception of work as partnering with God in his love and care for the world” (“Lutheran”). The gospel also gives us “a particularly sensitive new moral compass” (“ecumenical-mainline”). Finally, the gospel “changes our motives for work and fills us with a new and durable inner power…” (“conservative-evangelical”).