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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2 thoughts on “What Constitutes Work?

  1. Quick response, more later. I worked 12 hours per day, six days a week minimum for many many years, no one of the 400 ish people who worked for me probably worked harder.

    But so did my grandfather in a coal mine and not for ten years. Should I make it to April I will have lived as long as he did, he died of black lung.

    My point is that there are some modest connections possibly between work and return, but it is more zero work is zero return, hard work is survival, and that’s it. Beyond survival you have basically won the lottery, starting with historically being born in the us, education without serious debt your a pharaoh.

    What you and I have would have made naboth uninteresting, the Tudors migrate, and Richelieu give up the scarlet cap. My father is 75 drives to Florida, his house is 70 degrees year round, takes a scalding hot shower everyday, and eats ice cream every day, I suspect he will live in his house in good health into his late 80s and occasionally drink scotch ( from the state store) with me that is better than James the 2nd did, and we certainly drink better coffee as you know.

    What did I have to do with this, pretty much nothing.

    But this in the process of ending

  2. From the personal to the abstract…… well maybe.

    One has to ask, is it possible to be successful by these standards for the Christian, at all? Bauckham in talking about the Laodicean Church (Rev 3:17) and its complacent affluence says: “Their teaching made it possible for Christians to be successful in pagan society, but this was the beast’s success, a real conquest of the saints, winning them to his side, rather than the only apparent conquest he achieved by putting them to death.”

    There is something different about the success of my relatives who farmed and some other occupations. My beloved grandmother the EC woman that she was, did not believe that anyone could be an honest bartender or honest bar owner, as did many of her Methodist, Baptist, and Wesleyan brothers and sisters. You would probably have a problem with my trying to explain to you about the honest whorehouse that I run, or my Medical Marijuana store in San Jose, or my pedophile assassination franchise that I operate for Focus on the Family. These are probably easy, but we not here for easy or equipped for easy.

    Since I have been stepping all over you with regards to PSU in the past, let me extend the offense and move to Tebow.

    I really can’t imagine too many more splendid institutions than the NFL, what could be more Godly than (in general) their owners, their players, the clarity of their value model ($), their cheerleaders, their “leverage” of public funds to build their cathedrals, their genuine spirituality, the centricity of their message on a day of rest, their so positive influence on the young. The only other demoniation/denomination that might be in that league would be the NBA.

    And then we have Tebow going to participate in that splendid institution, we will all truly benefit from this, I’m sure. I fear Tebow is a complete tool as are his celebrants in Christendom.

    I loved the Sunday school lessons that I had in the EC and Methodist church, they were for the most part excellant, who can do bad with flannelgraph after all. The OT ones were a little trickier, even in their watered down state (how was Rahab bad in my 7 year old head was never clear for instance). But let me tell you I didn’t care what kind of spin they put on Lot, he made me uncomfortable, I was going to definitely forget the wife, and not forget him. [I some times wonder if “remember Lot’s wife” is actually ironic]

    In the completion of the OT canon, where does it leave him? We’d have to look at the Talmud et al or as Dr. Dorsey says “sift a lot of sand there to find a jewel” (with respect to the Talmud). It took me years later (from the NT) to find out he was a “righteous man”. I’m in no position to argue about his Spiritual state, but I continue to have questions about his true impact and what the overall narrative means.

    Nail Ferguson did a very interesting book on counterfactual argument with his Harvard and Oxford friends and how truly difficult that is – binding causality. But, that is where I would go with Lot, what if he didn’t choose the city of the plains? Abraham wasn’t perfect, his desires for minimizing strife certainly had consequence for his family, and his posterity that were pretty poor (strife at the epic scale including murder, war, etc.). Abraham’s offer between this or that, were undoubtedly not all of the choices, just all that he could imagine or worse, desired.

    So, I would argue that it is impossible to fully participate and benefit from the system at these levels without making a “bargain with the devil” as my grandmother would say. You need to ask what work is actually legitimate.

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