The Sandbox Theory
Life at work is easier than life at home. Perhaps work is our training ground, where we grow into who we are to become?
"Why are work and business so important to God?" I've been asking this question for over thirty years. I'd like to propose one answer to this knotty question. Of course, the question admits a point of view—that work and business are important to God—so maybe I'd best start there.
God chose the primary form and trajectory of reality in creation. He arranged the world the way it is (and is progressing) out of love and creativity. The lion's share of human energy, effort and endeavour is directed to what we call "work"—the whole range of active and productive engagements people do to sustain themselves, society and the planet. So, it stands to reason that if our lives are important to God, and we'll spend the majority of our lives working, and this fact of life is part of God's design for humanity, then our work—and the time and energy we spend on it—matters to God.
This observation took me to the precious few pages of pre-Fall literature in Genesis. While brief, this critical material is the only description we have of how things were when they were perfect—when they reflected what God had in mind. That story tells me a lot about what's important to God.
The first thing to notice in the early Genesis account is that work—what we do on earth, with each other and for the world—is a primary subject. As I studied Genesis in search of God's design for work and for us as worker-stewards, I saw six aspects of godly work:
- intentionality (1:27; 2:6-8),
- stewardship (1:28),
- self-sustenance (1:29),
- tool making (2:15),
- beauty-appreciation (2:9), and
- collaboration (2:18).
God desires for us to work actively to care for each other and this world, and in so doing, sustain our mortal lives (in other words, "make a living"). I believe that what we see in today's global exercise of work is the natural result of millenia of human growth into these tasks, particularly stewardship, tool making (technology) and collaboration.
There are many domains of work, significantly different from one another: government, the academy, medicine, for-profit business, non-profit institutions and NGOs, agriculture, the military and religion. Yet all are, in various ways, doing the work God began in creation and continues to do through us. Co-creating with God is part of our image-bearing.
To the question at hand: how does this apply to for-profit business? Business is a substantial part of the work world, and is increasingly becoming the dominant power in global society. Some argue that multi-national corporations are more powerful than countries. If the rise of profit-making corporations is an expression of and rooted in the momentum of collaborative work begun by God so long ago, is there a deeper importance to it than we typically grant?
There are good traditional, theological reasons why work is important. We work because God works. We work to respond to the fundamental call to stewardship given in creation, which provides an essential ordination for all of humanity. We work to order our lives beyond ourselves and in service to what God cares for. These are good answers, but they still leave me with a "why."
Why work? Why self-sustain? After all, the God of creation is also the God of manna (free food), the God of the armadillo and turtle (free housing), and the God of Tillandsia (air-eaters). God could have made this a lot easier on us, but didn't. Why?
If you want to understand the questions "why work?" or "why business?", I think you can ask another question: "Why people?" God created out of love. God is love, and first and foremost we are to love (I Corinthians 13, I John). To love, we must grow into mature adults who can move from milk to meat, and mature into being the lovers God has called us to be (I Corinthians 3, Hebrews 5).
In actuality, there's no situation in which we're asked to be everything God ever hoped we would be. We are never even asked to be ourselves; we are asked to play a role. Some roles are more demanding than others. It's easier to be a school crossing guard than a father. It's harder to be best friend than fireman.
I suspect one reason God thought work was such a good idea is that work is a simplified version of life, one in which we can be trained to become a person. Work is God's sandbox. He invites His children to play together in ways that help to grow them into who they are to become. Many work roles are very difficult, but they are almost always much simpler than personal or relational roles. Roles that express a greater degree of fullness of human experience are harder and more demanding. Life at work is easier than life at home, because it's more two-dimensional. It's focused on a smaller set of issues on what is actually a fairly small stage.