What Constitutes Work?

This is an area I probably should not go with some of my readers, but I’m going there anyway–not to provoke anyone, but to ask for an honest, friendly debate. So let’s try.

The political campaign is quite interesting. If the Republican candidates are this caustic toward one another one can only imagine what it will be like by the time fall rolls around. One of the issues that is sure to be repeated has to do with what sort of work one candidate or the other performed in order to become as wealthy as he is. But one constant refrain is that they each have their great wealth because they worked for it. And part of the platform on which either of the main contestants will undoubtedly run in November is that those who work hard for their money ought to be able to keep it, i.e., they should not be burdened with higher taxes.

The underlying, unspoken assumption here is that these successful people have more money than the vast majority of the population because they earned it by working hard. The great myth of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps lives on–and maybe it should as an encouragement to people to try harder. But do wealthy people really work harder? That one bothers me a bit. They may have done a lot of things differently, including making decisions about what was important and gearing their efforts toward accumulating more money according to the ways of the financial system that is in place; but does that really mean they worked harder than the rest of people in the workforce? The terminology is deceptive, and frankly affronts those average folks who work very hard, but will never have the opportunity to become rich as a result of that work. Some work so hard that they hold multiple jobs, putting in incredible hours, just to stay above the poverty line. Is it really hard work that adds 10-15 thousand dollars to the average cost of buying a house to satisfy banks, attorneys, insurance (title insurance?), and fees of all kinds that take dollars with absolutely no value added? Or that “earns” $300,000 to speak at an event?

I believe the Bible does speak of work as an integral part of our created purpose (Adam had work to do before the fall; it just got tougher thereafter). And the variety of work included in just the first few chapters of Genesis is impressive. Nor does there seem to be any objection to some accumulating considerable wealth through buying and selling. It does become difficult to translate the biblical data into contemporary economic contexts; but that does not mean we shouldn’t make every attempt to figure out what it means for us to do business with honest scales. It tells us to do whatever we do as unto the Lord, with instruction for both home owner and worker and household worker.

Here’s the question. What might the Bible have to say about the ways in which wealth is accumulated and its relation to work? What is hard work? Or should we think of that only as “smarter” work in our context? I’m just wondering; but it’s not just hard work in the sense most of us recognize that got Mitt and Newt their millions.

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