Whatever our Job, God is Boss
In the Book of Genesis we read: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 2:28). Happily, we have obeyed the first command, to be fruitful and fill the earth (although not always in the marital state).
Humankind is also instructed to be masters of all living creatures on earth and use the seed-bearing plants for providing for our basic necessities.
We are co-creators with God, stewards of creation, meant to use these gifts and our talents to provide for our needs. We have the honour and dignity of being co-creators in finishing off an unfinished world.
Work is more than providing for our human needs, it is a participation in God’s creative activity, as well as being a service to humankind. The Lord is in effect our employer.
It is our responsibility and right to develop all of creation by intelligent effort. Properly organised, work should also be a source of human and spiritual growth, apart from providing for our physical needs. The fact that Jesus worked, adds more nobility to the world of work.
The words “subdue the earth” are laden with meaning, referring to the complex world of work, an activity meant for humankind before the Fall from Grace.
The fact that this world is now characterised by tensions and problems is a result of humankind’s Fall, but work was never a punishment for “original sin”.
In Matthew, Jesus talks about the Father’s providence with confidence. The reality of hunger, inadequate amenities, poor health care and other deficiencies for billions of people means that God’s providence is somehow being stifled, contradicted (6:25-34).
One of the Church’s documents on Catholic Social Teachings, Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, of 1931, sees the fundamental reason for injustice and variance from Christian principles in social and economic matters as rooted in “the disorderly affection of the soul, a sad consequence of original sin”.
The world of work is riddled with tensions, inequities, dishonesty and sheer greed. There is also much to compliment: the amazing ingenuity, discipline, research and hard work, “subduing” the earth to provide amazing goods and services for humankind.
Pope Pius’ letter marked 40 years of the release of Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking document Rerum Novarum, in which the Church first spoke openly about the world of work in a special encyclical.
Pope John Paul II picked up that theme 90 years after Rerum Novarum. His 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (“In the Exercise of Labour”) deals extensively with the world of work.
The pope avers that work is for man, not man for work; it is not an impersonal force, and the person is not a mere factor of production in the overall equation of work. It serves also to develop the person, not just to provide products.
The dehumanised conditions of employment during the industrial revolution, and the massive inequities which characterise the world economies today have drawn extensive comment from the Church.
Pope Francis has called for a social economy, not socialism. If our creator God has provided the resources for us, why is there hunger, poor or non-existent medical care, chronic unemployment and lack of basic amenities?
I heard a person on the radio contend that business and work do not mix. Ironically, that person was the chief executive of a magazine that presents soft pornography. Perhaps they did not want their conscience to be bothered!
There is the discipline of business ethics, often a course within business studies. There are also extensive writings by the Church, in its Catholic Social Teachings, and economists looking at economies through humanistic lens, not sheer profit maximisation.
Economics, whether anchored to capitalism or Marxism, is replete with values that can be labelled as religious and social. These disciplines are not value-free, scientific disciplines, as they make themselves out to be. There is no value-free study—all is built on a platform of values, explicitly or implicitly. A student even did a doctoral degree on values found in mathematics!
Business is an essential site for incarnation of Christian values. Jesus refers to the astuteness of the children of this world.
We children of light need to match this wisdom and provide answers to profoundly challenging issues.