In Work in the Spirit, one of Miroslav Volf’s aims in constructing a pneumatological theology of work is to combat the tendency inherent in the vocational theology of work to accept, rather than to challenge, work that is alienating.
He explains “work is alienating when it does not correspond to God’s intent for human nature.” While “alienation in work is not equivalent to dissatisfaction with work,” “discontent with work is an unmistakable indicator of the presence of alienation.”
But, what constitutes us as human beings is “not human work (or any other human activity)” but “God’s personal relation” to human beings. Put theologically, “sin against God has ontological…priority over all other forms of human sin and misery,” and “the fundamental form of alienation cannot be alienating work, but alienation from God.”
This means we should not “expect too much from any success one might have in overcoming alienating work” because “such success does not reach deep enough into the human predicament.” Moreover, “even attempts to humanize work with more modest goals will be less successful than they could be” if the focus is solely on humanizing work while neglecting our alienation from God. Finally, “since alienation from God will be overcome only in the new creation, all attempts to humanize work will be crowned with only partial success.”