By Gideon Strauss

“How do we make sense of all the very good work being done by people who are not motivated by the gospel?”

Long Beach’s 30 under 40 crew are grappling with both the big questions of a Christian life and the particular challenges of contributing to the flourishing of their own city. At the intersection of love for Christ and love of the city, they are encountering the complex reality that Jesus (uniquely and decisively) rescues the world from evil …. while people who do not recognize that unique rescuing work do some really good work. How does one make sense of justice done by a political leader, the beautiful song sung by a street musician, the nourishing and imaginative meals prepared in the restaurant at the corner, when the people responsible for all this good work do not confess Jesus as their inspiration … if one believes that good is in the world because (and in an ultimate sense only because) of Jesus?

 

The Peninsula, Long Beach, California

The Peninsula, Long Beach, California

 

The question came two days ago, while I was in a conversation with the 30 under 40 crew about a spirituality of work. A robust spirituality of work, I suggested, is one that awakens in us wonder at the goodness of God’s creation, heartbreak at the evil vandalizing God’s good world and lurking also in our own hearts, and hope in the redemptive work by means of which God is recovering all of creation to its original goodness. It is the kind of spirituality we find expressed in the psalms of David, the king of Israel a millennium before the life of Jesus. (David poetically revels in the wonders of God’s creation and the opportunity we human beings have to cultivate creation’s possibilities in our work, he laments the evil he himself inflicts on the people for whom his own work as king makes him responsible, and he expresses profound hope in the rescue God works on his behalf when he finds himself terrified by the danger in which he finds himself because of his work.)

 

Eric March, 30 under 40 organizer

Eric March, 30 under 40 organizer

 

The question is wonderfully addressed by Richard Mouw in his little book He Shines in All That’s Fair, which I tried to summarize in relation to the spirituality for work that we had been talking about. This spirituality is a dialogue between God and humanity. God creates a wonder-filled world; humanity responds with wonder. God constrains the evil that vandalizes the goodness of this world; humanity responds with heartbreak. God rescues the world back to its original created goodness (and works towards an even more glorious future than we are able to imagine); humanity responds with hope, and participates in God’s healing of the world. It is a dialogue between God’s grace and humanity’s gratitude.

This spirituality also helps us to understand the goodness worked in the world by people who are not consciously participating in the dialogue. God’s grace sustains creation; God’s grace constrains evil; God’s grace enables redemption. It is because we live in the time of God’s patience (a phrase that Richard Mouw ascribes to his Mennonite friends) that rain nourishes the crops of both those who follow Jesus and those who don’t, artists can find and make beauty in God’s creation whether they follow Jesus or no, governments can act as God’s ministers by constraining evil whether they acknowledge the rule of God or not, and therapists can bring healing to broken relationships or nurses and doctors to broken bodies whether they acknowledge the healing power of God or not. God’s common grace (as Richard Mouw and others call it) – a grace that makes all human life, all creaturely existence possible – is as effective as God’s special grace, by which God brings people into a recognized and grateful relationship with himself.

 

30 under 40 conversation

30 under 40 conversation

A robust spirituality of work that recognizes the reality of this common grace also allows its practitioners to enjoy and commend the good work of people who do not recognize Jesus as their rescuer and ruler. It allows its practitioners to collaborate with all who do good work – work that opens up the possibilities of God’s creation, work that mitigates the effects of human evil, work that brings substantial healing (in Francis Schaeffer’s phrase) in this tired and broken world – for the common good. But those who do recognize who Jesus is and what he has accomplished, can add into this shared work their realization that wonder is not something added to our work as an afterword, in our evening prayers, but is woven into the very fabric of our work itself. Heartbreak is not something expressed when we confess our sins in church, but is present as we confront the evil in our own work and critique the evil designed into our work structures. Hope is not just something we sing about in our worship songs, but is the heartspring of all of our workplace activities. We can and must celebrate good work, whoever does it, while our own work, as lovers of Jesus, and as the medieval Benedictine monks articulated it, also is worship. The work itself! Our work proclaims our wonder, heartbreak, and hope, in its ordinary, everyday activities, and as such brings delight to God and heralds good news to our neighbors.

( Editorial note: Pictures courtesy of Rachel Oblon and the author.)

Gideon Strauss is the executive director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

2 Responses to At work in the time of God's patience

  1. Rick Theule says:

    Gideon – Thank you so much for your thoughts and words on “work”. The thought that our work itself, no matter what that work, is worship to our Lord is an idea I have held to for many years. Work is indeed the meaning of our life here on earth. As Christians we need to understand this, no matter the work given to us by God.

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