In the beginning was work; work was with God; all things were made through it, and nothing was made without it. Work played a major role in creation. God worked for seven days, and before he took a break, he commissioned man to work to subdue the earth (Gen. 2:15). So in working, we are carrying out the very command of God. We are doing what God himself had done. When we work, we are being godlike because we are operating through the same mean that God had used to carry out his plan. So it is right and just that we work. Whereas the Greeks in the epic of Gilgamesh’s stories of creation depict creation as the result of conflicts between the gods, the book of Genesis describes creation as the plan of God achieved by means of work. Work then is not the result of our fallen nature; it is part of our intrinsic nature. We were made to work. Work precedes the fall, but the fall makes its fruit harder to get.
God not only worked, he also found delights in his work. He found his work beautiful and good (Gen. 1:31). He sees himself in his work. In the garden of paradise, work was seen as blessedness. It is a human need as much as prayer, food, beauty, and friendship are. God does not delight in laziness. When we survey the whole Bible, one pattern is unmistakable– He usually calls people who are hard at work. He called none of Jesse’s sons, but the busy David. Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep when he was sent to lead the people out of Egypt. Amos was a shepherd.
Work is foundational to our makeup. Most retired people wish they could still be working if their health permitted. Those who are constantly working rarely get sick. People who work are happier and healthier. In struggling to discover our identity, once we start working, we ipso facto discover our gifts and abilities. It seems in God’s mind that we must not only work in order to make money, we must work to live life fully. Part of life is to work. That is manifested in the frustrations we experience when we are out of work, and the pleasure we enjoy when we success at it.
All work is a calling from God. Work done with care deserves to be paid well. A person who bears in mind that his work is a calling and performs it in that spirit should not struggle to make ends meet. Unfortunately, we are too familiar with good citizens who perform their work with their very soul, and yet struggle economically. This is something that must be tackled with the greatest conviction.
Work also dignifies us. The dignity of work does not lie in the kind of work one performs; it resides in how much of ourselves we put in the work. A work well done is a service done to God and our neighbor. Approached from that perspective, work becomes a way to serve and exalt someone beyond ourselves. Work performed from that spirit will allow us to be more successful in the long run due to the quality of our work. So while keeping our eyes on the Transcendent, our personal needs are fulfilled. Work well done is a service done to ourselves and society. When each police officer, judge, and lawmaker puts their hearts and souls in their work, everyone is safer. When mayors, senators, representatives, presidents put their petty interest aside, the common good benefits.
However, our life must never be reduced to what we achieved through work (emphasis added). No matter how successful we are at our work, even if the work that we do is our vocation, it can never bring fulfillment and meaning to our lives. We were made to aim for greatness; nothing other than greatness satisfies us. There is a reason why God orders rest on the seventh day (Ex. 20:8). Josef Pieper calls rest leisure in his book entitled Leisure: the Basis of Culture. That deserves more attention. He argues that work should be pursued so that we may be at leisure. “We work in order to be at leisure”. What he means by leisure is interesting indeed. It is certainly not eating and drinking, going to the beach, or watching TV. It is not simply enjoying the company of good friend, reading a good book, or writing a blog post though it does not exclude those. Leisure is a condition of the soul. It is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion in the really real. He sees leisure as the attitude of someone who opens and lets himself go as if sleeping. Leisure is not idleness; it is the condition of considering thing in a celebrating spirit. That means peace, intensity of life, and contemplation at once.
It only takes place and possible when man is in harmony with himself, the world, and its meaning. It is like the stillness in the conversation of lovers. Leisure as Pieper sees it is not a way to regain bodily strength and mental refreshment for further work though it does bring such benefits. The purpose of leisure is to keep us human. Deprived of leisure, work becomes a bare, hopeless effort resembling the labor of Sisyphus chained to his labor without rest and inner satisfaction.
Leisure gives us the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with the superhuman. It elevates us to a realm higher than work can. Leisure is the locus where the spiritual and bodily being that we are meet each other. It is the embrace of heaven and earth in us. It allows us to move beyond this cacophonous world of work and see that man cannot live as a mere functionary, but as a divine being.
Celebration or festival is at the heart of leisure. All celebrations derive their source from experiencing and living out in harmony with the world. No one or nothing can be in harmony with or experience the world without being in harmony with God, the Creator of the world. Therefore, all celebrations, however remote that may be, give praise to God, claims Pieper. True worship occurs only within a religious framework. A simplified version of Pieper’s point is this: when man withdraws himself from his labor, he becomes harmonized with God. In so doing, he discovers that he is not simply a being made for work, but someone made above all to love, know, and worship God. That’s how we keep the being that we are from being a complete functionary consumed in the total world of work. Leisure is the rescuing of man from being considered an object of usefulness. Because man has dignity, he can never be evaluated according to his performance. Leisure enables him to live as he was meant to live from the beginning.
Unless leisure, we are slaves. For Ecclesiastes, if there were nothing beyond this life, the toil of man under the sun would be pointless. For some of the Greeks, work is demeaning. It is a barrier to the highest kind of life—the contemplative life. “We would reach the level of the gods if we can withdraw from the active life to consecrate ourselves solely to the contemplative”. For Aristotle, “only those who are incapable of the higher life should work”. Those views hold true only if man reduces himself to a pure worker. However, when work is seen as being coworkers of God, she work is viewed for what it is, man is capable to reach greatness and give glory to God.