Work in the Spirit 26

imgresMiroslav Volf concludes Work in the Spirit by stating, “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, hints at the same, referencing Dorothy Sayers who once said “the worker’s first duty is to serve the work.”

Volf comes to this conclusion by examining “human nature as God desires it to be.”

If the purpose of human life is either reflection (as in much of philosophical tradition) or worship (as in much of Christian tradition), then work can have only instrumental value.  One works in order to keep alive, and one lives in order to think or worship.  But if work is a fundamental dimension of human existence, then work cannot have only an instrumental value.  If God’s purpose for human beings is not only for them to ensure that certain states of affairs come about (the cultivation and preservation of the Garden of Eden) but that these states of affairs are created through human work (tilling and keeping), then work cannot be only a means to life whose purpose exists fully in something outside work, but must be considered an aspect of the purpose of life itself (emphasis in the original).  

Therefore, “if I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end it itself.”  We should “not turn a fundamental aspect of life [that is, work] into a mere means of life.

This is very much contrary to how we often perceive work.  We strive “to produce things most efficiently [and are] not interested in work at all, but in the product of work.”  “The unreachable ideal” that we nonetheless strive foolishly for is “to have the product without the work.”  But the original design for work was not so.  “Human beings are called to achieve something efficiently as well as gifted to enjoy the process of achieving it.” And we were intended to work “without inconvenience” and “as it were, in play and with the greatest delight.”

So we come to Volf’s conclusion again: “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  This means:

…every good worker goes out of herself and loses herself in her work.  Without such “self-forgetfulness,” in which the inborn egoism that twists everything into means for our ends loosens its grip on us, there is no true joy in work.  The opposition between the self-forgetfulness in work and self-realization through work is only apparent.  Just as “everything else” will be added to us when we seek the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), so will self-realization be added to us when we seek good work, when we serve others by self-forgetful, enjoyable work that does not violate our personhood.


One thought on “Work in the Spirit 26

  1. Pingback: Why Work? 1 | Working Prototype

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