The Theology of Work on Display During our Darkest Days

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(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

It occurred to me yesterday that in the midst of this awful pandemic, it has been an extraordinary time to clearly see some of the basic tenets of the theology of work on display for all to see.  The subject of human work (and God’s very real connection to it) has been front page news for several weeks.  Let me explain what I mean.

Heroic work

At his daily press conferences, the President deliberately praises the great Americans (and companies) who are doing “heroic” work every day: healthcare workers, first responders, the military, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, governors, etc.  I have not seen such a public outpouring of love and support for these workers since 9/11.  Their work really matters to all of us now.

One might wonder, “Why is there is such a profound demonstration of courage, hard work, dedication, compassion, and creativity among these workers in such as time as this?”  I believe that a strong biblical and practical theology of work has relevant answers to this question.

We know from Gen. 1:26-18 that humans were created by God in His image.  God is a worker, and we were created to work also.  Men and women were given both the responsibility and the blessing to be coworkers with God to care for, sustain, and expand His creation.  (See Gen 2:15.)  Furthermore, God equipped humans with a variety of skills and talents.  As we use those talents in the communities in which we find ourselves, we can be part of the solution to meet others’ needs.

Never forget that God is always present in human work.  I call this concept Immanuel labor.  It is everywhere, especially now.

The loss of work

In contrast to the focused attention on all those multitudes of faithful workers who are doing amazing things every day to save lives and bring about restoration, millions more have lost jobs.

Tens of millions (amounting to about 10%) of American workers who are now unemployed is a major concern.  It is taking its toll on families, communities, and the nation’s economy.  Many others have had their jobs altered in significant ways due to teleworking.  Why is this such a strain on everyone?  Again, based on our divine design, humans need meaningful work to thrive.  We need what work brings us – a sense of purpose, satisfaction, and to be part of a team.

How should we respond?

  • Continue to encourage essential workers; they need courage to keep going back to work
  • Go out of your way to encourage all the other workers who are not considered essential (but truly are); they also need to know that their contributions matter
  • Remember to praise God for His provision in meeting our needs; it is He who provides for us only by His grace through the work of humans as His coworkers

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

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