January 25, 2022

Work Is Broken

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“The greatest work project of the ancient world is a story of disaster. The unexcelled organization and enormous energy that were concentrated in building the Tower of Babel resulted in such a shattered community and garbled communication that civilization is still trying to recover. Effort, even if the effort is religious (perhaps especially if the effort is religious), does not in itself justify anything.” - Eugene Peterson

Over 4,000 years ago, the people at the Tower of Babel tried to make a name for themselves and protect themselves from the rest of the world (Genesis 11:4). Unfortunately, humans still use their work to gain personal significance and comparative advantage over others. This sad reality is true for both corporations and nonprofits, executives and associates. 

We all know companies that seek profits by exploiting workers and harming the environment. We all are aware of organizations – even religious ones – that protect the needs of the organization over the very people they claim to serve. We all know people who work incredibly hard but don’t ever seem to be satisfied.

Part of what makes work so broken is that we get “means” and “ends” confused. The French theologian Jacques Ellul points this out in his comments on how technology has changed our worldview. “The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become “means”. There is no longer an “end”; we do not know where we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.” What good is technology unless it produces better ends for people? 

Far too often, we “keep score” based on means rather than ends. This problem is perhaps most pronounced as it relates to money. Those that have the most money and power often use it to gain more means for themselves. Consider these statistics from the Economic Policy Institute. 

From 1978 to 2020: 

  • CEO pay based on realized compensation grew by 1,322%.
  • The S&P stock market grew 817%.
  • Earnings growth was 341% (between 1978 and 2019).
  • The compensation of the typical worker grew by just 18.0%.

When we treat money as an end goal, the result is greed that is out of control and a distorted view of the world. Undue focus on money and other resources causes us to treat other people as means. Instead of seeing other people as fellow image bearers of God (Genesis 1:26-27), we see them as people that can help us get what we want. Andy Crouch says it this way at a recent talk he gave at The Faith Driven Investor Conference.

“Mammon [the love of money] hates persons, it wants you to operate impersonally. It actually wants to turn persons into things. In fact, when mammon really gets its grip into a human society – as it had gotten its grip into the roman empire as it got its grip into the capitalism that built our western World – the result is treating persons like things. Treating persons impersonally, this is what slavery is. It's treating a person like property, it's treating a person like a thing, and while God wants the world to be filled with persons so that the whole world will be known and loved and God will be known and loved in everything. Mammon wants to empty the world of persons. Mammon wants everything to be impersonal so that there's no one and nothing left, only things – and ultimately not even material things – just an immaterial world that is devoted to pure power without dependence.”

When we view money as a god and people as a means, there are many consequences. It creates work that does not work for many people. It creates desires that can never be fulfilled. 

God made work for good. In fact, God made man and woman in His image and gave them great purpose in their work (Genesis 1:26-27). After God commissioned the first humans for their work, He saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

In this three part series, we saw that Work Is Very Good (Part 1), in this article we see how Work Is Broken, (Part 2), and finally how we can join God in making all things new through Work Is Redemptive (Part 3).  

Humans were given perfect dignity and purpose by God in the very beginning. Yet, our ancestors – Adam and Eve – fell for the lie that they could have even more than the perfection God blessed them with in the garden (Genesis 3:1-6). Since then, each of us have been falling for the lie that somehow God’s gifts of abundance, dignity, and purpose are not enough. Claiming to be wise, we have become fools and have gone against God’s will and sought our own (Romans 1:21-22). This selfish ambition continues to cause brokenness.

God addressed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them the consequences of their sin. 

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” - Genesis 3:17-19

These words from God are as relevant for us today for us as they were for Adam and Eve. God gives two major consequences that impact our work every day. 

  1. Work will be more difficult than we expect. No matter how much we plan and prepare we will face thorns and thistles. Due to the impacts of sin, the surprising difficulties we face everyday are just as much a part of life as the pain women have in childbirth (Genesis 3:16). If we realize this and prepare for hardships by counting on God’s help to get us through the day, we will be at peace. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).
  2. Work will never completely satisfy us. No matter what profession we are in and no matter how hard we try, our work will never satisfy us. There will always be a portion of our work that is futile (Romans 8:20), and there will not be a completely satisfactory end to our work until we meet God. However, if we draw near to God, do our work for Him (Colossians 3:23), and seek both our own good and the good of our neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24), we can know that we are in God’s original design for work. We find success when we align with God and are obedient to His Word (Joshua 1:8). 

Of course, the original sin of Adam and Eve – and our continued sin – creates other broken elements that impact our work. Here are some other ways our sin impacts us as individuals and corrupts our work.

  • Jealousy —  Just as Cain was jealous of Able and killed him (Genesis 4: 3-8), when we compare our work efforts with others we will never be content.
  • Pride — When we point to ourselves or think we are better than others we cause ourselves to stumble (Proverbs 16:18).
  • Greed —  As we seek to do well only for ourselves and not to bless others we can cheat or manipulate others (James 5:4). 
  • Anxiety / Fear When we waste our time at work worrying about the future we do not do our best in our daily work (Matthew 6:34).
  • Lack of motivation — Because of the fall, a lack of motivation to work has infected humanity. We seldom work hard without rewards (Proverbs 24:30-34).
  • Cutting corners — When people are not looking, we take shortcuts to get where they want to be (Proverbs 10:9). 
  • Exploiting loopholes — Did God really say…? Does the law really say…? Does company policy really say…? When rules and regulations are inconvenient or impede efficiency, we often attempt to find a way around following them (1 Peter 2:13-17).
  • Zero sum game — We view deals in terms of winners and losers. Rather than viewing deals as an opportunity to have both parties win (Hosea 12:7-8). 
  • Working too much — We think staying up late and getting up early can make or break us, but God’s word says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2).
  • Keeps us from rest — God designed us to live in a pattern of work and rest (Genesis 2:1-2). When we think our work is more important than our rest, we fail to trust God for His provision. 

In Eugene Peterson’s masterpiece, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, he points out that one of our requirements of Christian workers is, “to learn the ways sin skews our nature and submit what we learn to the continuing will of God, so that we are reshaped through the days of our obedience.”  

Knowing why our work is broken and how sin impacts us allows us to count on God for every breath (Acts 17:25) and move into the battle (Ephesians 6:10-11) we are given in our life and work. 

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Howard Graham
Howard Graham
Executive Director

“The greatest work project of the ancient world is a story of disaster. The unexcelled organization and enormous energy that were concentrated in building the Tower of Babel resulted in such a shattered community and garbled communication that civilization is still trying to recover. Effort, even if the effort is religious (perhaps especially if the effort is religious), does not in itself justify anything.” - Eugene Peterson

Over 4,000 years ago, the people at the Tower of Babel tried to make a name for themselves and protect themselves from the rest of the world (Genesis 11:4). Unfortunately, humans still use their work to gain personal significance and comparative advantage over others. This sad reality is true for both corporations and nonprofits, executives and associates. 

We all know companies that seek profits by exploiting workers and harming the environment. We all are aware of organizations – even religious ones – that protect the needs of the organization over the very people they claim to serve. We all know people who work incredibly hard but don’t ever seem to be satisfied.

Part of what makes work so broken is that we get “means” and “ends” confused. The French theologian Jacques Ellul points this out in his comments on how technology has changed our worldview. “The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become “means”. There is no longer an “end”; we do not know where we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.” What good is technology unless it produces better ends for people? 

Far too often, we “keep score” based on means rather than ends. This problem is perhaps most pronounced as it relates to money. Those that have the most money and power often use it to gain more means for themselves. Consider these statistics from the Economic Policy Institute. 

From 1978 to 2020: 

  • CEO pay based on realized compensation grew by 1,322%.
  • The S&P stock market grew 817%.
  • Earnings growth was 341% (between 1978 and 2019).
  • The compensation of the typical worker grew by just 18.0%.

When we treat money as an end goal, the result is greed that is out of control and a distorted view of the world. Undue focus on money and other resources causes us to treat other people as means. Instead of seeing other people as fellow image bearers of God (Genesis 1:26-27), we see them as people that can help us get what we want. Andy Crouch says it this way at a recent talk he gave at The Faith Driven Investor Conference.

“Mammon [the love of money] hates persons, it wants you to operate impersonally. It actually wants to turn persons into things. In fact, when mammon really gets its grip into a human society – as it had gotten its grip into the roman empire as it got its grip into the capitalism that built our western World – the result is treating persons like things. Treating persons impersonally, this is what slavery is. It's treating a person like property, it's treating a person like a thing, and while God wants the world to be filled with persons so that the whole world will be known and loved and God will be known and loved in everything. Mammon wants to empty the world of persons. Mammon wants everything to be impersonal so that there's no one and nothing left, only things – and ultimately not even material things – just an immaterial world that is devoted to pure power without dependence.”

When we view money as a god and people as a means, there are many consequences. It creates work that does not work for many people. It creates desires that can never be fulfilled. 

God made work for good. In fact, God made man and woman in His image and gave them great purpose in their work (Genesis 1:26-27). After God commissioned the first humans for their work, He saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

In this three part series, we saw that Work Is Very Good (Part 1), in this article we see how Work Is Broken, (Part 2), and finally how we can join God in making all things new through Work Is Redemptive (Part 3).  

Humans were given perfect dignity and purpose by God in the very beginning. Yet, our ancestors – Adam and Eve – fell for the lie that they could have even more than the perfection God blessed them with in the garden (Genesis 3:1-6). Since then, each of us have been falling for the lie that somehow God’s gifts of abundance, dignity, and purpose are not enough. Claiming to be wise, we have become fools and have gone against God’s will and sought our own (Romans 1:21-22). This selfish ambition continues to cause brokenness.

God addressed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them the consequences of their sin. 

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” - Genesis 3:17-19

These words from God are as relevant for us today for us as they were for Adam and Eve. God gives two major consequences that impact our work every day. 

  1. Work will be more difficult than we expect. No matter how much we plan and prepare we will face thorns and thistles. Due to the impacts of sin, the surprising difficulties we face everyday are just as much a part of life as the pain women have in childbirth (Genesis 3:16). If we realize this and prepare for hardships by counting on God’s help to get us through the day, we will be at peace. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).
  2. Work will never completely satisfy us. No matter what profession we are in and no matter how hard we try, our work will never satisfy us. There will always be a portion of our work that is futile (Romans 8:20), and there will not be a completely satisfactory end to our work until we meet God. However, if we draw near to God, do our work for Him (Colossians 3:23), and seek both our own good and the good of our neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24), we can know that we are in God’s original design for work. We find success when we align with God and are obedient to His Word (Joshua 1:8). 

Of course, the original sin of Adam and Eve – and our continued sin – creates other broken elements that impact our work. Here are some other ways our sin impacts us as individuals and corrupts our work.

  • Jealousy —  Just as Cain was jealous of Able and killed him (Genesis 4: 3-8), when we compare our work efforts with others we will never be content.
  • Pride — When we point to ourselves or think we are better than others we cause ourselves to stumble (Proverbs 16:18).
  • Greed —  As we seek to do well only for ourselves and not to bless others we can cheat or manipulate others (James 5:4). 
  • Anxiety / Fear When we waste our time at work worrying about the future we do not do our best in our daily work (Matthew 6:34).
  • Lack of motivation — Because of the fall, a lack of motivation to work has infected humanity. We seldom work hard without rewards (Proverbs 24:30-34).
  • Cutting corners — When people are not looking, we take shortcuts to get where they want to be (Proverbs 10:9). 
  • Exploiting loopholes — Did God really say…? Does the law really say…? Does company policy really say…? When rules and regulations are inconvenient or impede efficiency, we often attempt to find a way around following them (1 Peter 2:13-17).
  • Zero sum game — We view deals in terms of winners and losers. Rather than viewing deals as an opportunity to have both parties win (Hosea 12:7-8). 
  • Working too much — We think staying up late and getting up early can make or break us, but God’s word says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2).
  • Keeps us from rest — God designed us to live in a pattern of work and rest (Genesis 2:1-2). When we think our work is more important than our rest, we fail to trust God for His provision. 

In Eugene Peterson’s masterpiece, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, he points out that one of our requirements of Christian workers is, “to learn the ways sin skews our nature and submit what we learn to the continuing will of God, so that we are reshaped through the days of our obedience.”  

Knowing why our work is broken and how sin impacts us allows us to count on God for every breath (Acts 17:25) and move into the battle (Ephesians 6:10-11) we are given in our life and work. 

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