In Chapter Five of this summer’s reading selection, Every Good Endeavor, the author, Timothy Keller begins to get at the heart of the problems most humans have with work. He begins by discussing how work, even with the strongest and best intentions, can feel fruitless or even worse, fail.
If you’re like me, it was a hard chapter to read. I tend to err on the side of optimism, believing wholeheartedly that I can make a difference in this world through my hard work. Although I believe this, I’m also constantly reminded that my best intentions can be thwarted by my own mistakes, the failures or indifference of others I work with, economic factors, and/or other environmental issues, like natural disasters, pandemics, and social unrest.
This may seem unfair, but it’s the nature of a fallen world. At one time, we were able to experience work at its fullest. Before the fall, the calling given by God allowed us to grow and prosper within a perfect world. After the fall, “thorns and thistles,” “labor and toil” became intricate parts of our work lives. Work became what we know it to be today – promising reward with large amounts of risk and difficulty.
As Keller states, this “fruitless” pursuit can cause many people to fall into, or oscillate between, two camps. “This is why so many people inhabit the extremes of idealism and cynicism – or even ricochet back and forth between those poles. Idealism says, “Through my work I am going to change things, make a difference, accomplish something new, bring justices to the world.” Cynicism says, “Nothing really changes. Don’t get your hopes up. Do what it takes to make a living. Don’t let yourself care too much. Get out of it whatever you can.”
As stated before, I’m wholeheartedly in the first camp, but can see why people fall into the second. In a fallen world, our best efforts can yield lackluster results, or worse, produce no results whatsoever. This can be an extremely frustrating way to live and work and if you don’t have a long-term, eternal view, it can feel pointless.
Yet, God gives us hope. As Christians, we know that heavenly accomplishment and reward awaits us. Our eternal goals are available to achieve and true divine wealth is obtainable.
Although this world, and subsequently our work, are filled with thistles and thorns, I encourage you to see the glimpses of heavenly reward God gives us. Weeds crop up, but so do the plants that nourish us. Hardships are real, but so are the rewards of hard work. Remember, that God gives, even in a fallen world, and it’s better to be hopeful for it, rather than cynical without it.