We human beings are situated in a world structured by small and large systems of hidden powers. On the physical side, the wheel and the lever,
heat (fire, steam, internal combustion engines), electricity, and the atom are
all illustrations of the unfolding destiny of humanity upon the earth. That
destiny is, in biblical language, "to have dominion" (Genesis 1:26).
That is, we are to be responsible for the earth and life upon it. Human
inventions or discoveries are all related, in straightforward ways, to work.
Work is the production of value by the actions of our thoughts and bodily
efforts upon available resources.
What’s more, work is a good thing, and it is a natural
disposition of human beings from early childhood on. Work is simply human
creativity. It is a special type of causation through which goodness and
blessing can be promoted in our surroundings.
Except in the rare "desert island" kinds of cases, the
values produced by work, and the particular activities involved in work, are
social or communal in nature. They are strictly inconceivable except in a
communal setting, from the family on up. They depend upon others for their
existence, and they are for the benefit of others as well as of the individual
worker. This too is "a good thing" and part of God’s arrangement for
the virtue and prospering of human beings. Without a "division of
labor" and suitable human relationships in community, human life can barely
rise above the level of animals. So the great question is: What is the
"resource" that will enable human beings, developing the powers of
nature, to live in a community where there is dignity, love, and provision for
We know very well some of the human answers to this vital
question, and we have the bitter experience of their failures. The modern
answers all focus upon the matter of "ownership." That is, upon the
question of who shall have the right to say what will be done with the
"resources." One says that the state or government should own the
means (including money and human labor) by which goods are produced. That is
Socialism. (But the "state" turns out in practice just to be certain
people, who may be neither wise nor competent nor good.) Communism says that no
one should own those means of production. (But then it turns out that certain
people do, for all practical purposes—regardless of the "official"
arrangement.) Unrestrained Capitalism says that enterprising individuals should
own them, catch as catch can in "fair" competition. (But then "fair"
gets defined by those who have the goods.)
None of these "answers," we should now know, provides
a moral solution to the human problems posed by work. In simple terms, this is
because none of them deal with the fine texture of human motivation: with what
men and women care about and live for. They are a form of the proverbial
"brain surgery with a meat cleaver." The popular theories of human
action now taught in our best schools of "management" do little
Bill Heatley’s book addresses this fundamental problem of
finding appropriate community-in-work for human beings. That community is the
resource without which all other resources languish or become dangerous. He
addresses that problem at the level where work is done in a world not really
structured around doing what is good and right, but around doing it my
way and for my benefit. That is the level of the job. (Spelled,
incidentally, just like the name of the all-time leader in suffering, Job. What
a coincidence!) The solution Bill brings forward is that of Jesus Christ and His
followers. It is the recognition of, and intelligent reliance upon, the
community (Kingdom, Family) of God. That community is already there at your job,
waiting to turn it back into rich and rewarding and meaningful work, creativity,
shared production of goods to be shared. You don’t make God’s community, of
course—you receive it, by counting on it and acting with it.
The accessibility of life in the community of God to every
person was the message of Jesus, in His words and in His deeds. Everything else
fits into that: forgiveness of sins, redemption from sin, transformation of
character into "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit"
(Romans 14:17), transformation of society, and the development of history into
everlasting life. In His efforts to help those around Him understand the message
and reality of the community of God, Jesus on one occasion remarked that the
community of God is not recognized by eyesight. It isn’t something localizable
in the world, like a human social group, a government (buildings), or an army.
Rather, He said, it is already there, "in your midst" (Luke 17:21).
That is to say, it is already where you are, wherever that may be, right now.
Now that was not a new thing in the time of Jesus, though it was
for Him alone to manifest and to be its full meaning. In Deuteronomy, we read
that God’s word, and doing what He wants and supports, "is not too
difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should
say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it,
that we may observe [do] it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea… . But the word is
very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe [do]
it" (30:11-14). The twenty-third psalm is a poetic celebration of this life
in "the Everlasting Arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27).
Paul, taught by Christ Himself, reclaims and enlarges this
vision of our life in God (Romans 10:8). He tells his Philippian friends:
"Our citizenship” (πολίτευμα)—our
“socio-economic" order, if you wish, or our "commonwealth"—is
in the heavens (3:20). That means it is right around us ("in our
midst"), not something far away and at some later time. We are now,
as disciples of Jesus, members of a divine community that, when we seek it, we
find with us in our job and throughout life: and thereby we turn all that we do
into work for and under God. Thus, Paul advises: "Whatever you do, do your
work heartily—literally, ‘from the soul’—as for the Lord rather than for
men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.
It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3:23-24). We are not to
try to look good (do "eye service"), as men-pleasers, but on our job
we simply "do the will of God from the soul" (Ephesians 6:6-8).
Now this book tells us exactly how to do this. Intelligent,
well-informed, and biblical to the core, it is intensely focused upon the
real-life context of the job: on what really goes on there, and how, for our
part, we can turn it into divine work. In this respect the author is telling us
how to live a life that is spiritual throughout, full of meaning, strength, and
joy. He thus stands in the solid tradition of Christian teaching throughout the
ages. He does so with the freshness of personal experience and the forcefulness
of careful thought.
Phillips Brooks was a great American pastor and teacher of a
century ago. He was for a long time the pastor of one of the greatest churches
in the United States, and sometimes the Anglican Bishop of Massachusetts; but he
was also a man of national prominence and influence. In his sermon, "Best
Methods of Promoting Spiritual Life," he acknowledges the role of special
religious practices, activities, and experiences. But he goes on to emphasize
that to limit spirituality to these is to omit most of our life from spiritual
living. To promote spiritual life, he says, is not to be more religious where
one is already religious:
It is to be religious where he is irreligious now; to let
the spiritual force which is in him play upon new activities. How shall he
open, for instance, his business life to this deep power? By casting out of
his business all that is essentially wicked in it, by insisting to himself
on its ideal, of charity or usefulness, on the loftiest conception of every
relationship into which it brings him with his fellow man, and by making it
not a matter of his own whim or choice, but a duty to be done faithfully
because God has called him to it… . God chose for him his work, and meant
for him to find his spiritual education there.1
Brooks closed his sermon with these words: "The Christian
finds the hand of Christ in everything, and by the faithful use of everything
for Christ’s sake, he takes firm hold of that hand of Christ and is drawn
nearer and nearer to Himself. That is, I think, the best method of promoting
This steady stream of Christian spirituality through vocation
flows down through the ages, and it alone is sufficient to the soul and to the
world of humanity today. We have only to step into it, to set ourselves to learn
it, and we will see its radiant power at work on the "job" where we
are. If one will simply do what Bill Heatley says, he or she will find the
promise, "I am with you always," to be the sure basis of abundance of
life, whatever the "job."
1. Phillips Brooks, Best Methods of
Promoting Spiritual Life (New York: Thomas Whittaker 2&3 Bible House),