A friend of mine at Regent College is regularly quoted as saying, “Matter matters to God.”
Is that really true? If so, what might that mean for our work?
I have to admit, most of my spiritual journey would suggest otherwise. What seems to be important to God are matters of the Spirit, not physical matter. The soul’s development and destiny are God’s focus- not the external, physical world.
Yes, God cares about human beings. After all, we are created in the image of God. We are creatures of infinite value. But, the physical creation? Not really. Not much, anyway.
So, how does that affect how we think about our work? Noted theologian, Miroslav Volf, says this: “The significance of secular work depends on the value of creation, and the value of creation depends on its final destiny,” (p.93, Work in the Spirit).
Much of my evangelical upbringing suggested that God will consign the physical creation to the ash heap of gospel history. Those who trust in Jesus will be saved. But, not much else. At least, that’s how I heard it. If that’s so, how do we take seriously work that ultimately will be tossed away? Why should anyone care about work that has no lasting consequence?
Not surprisingly, this vision had consequences of its own. People prioritize spiritual development – Bible studies, prayer meetings, personal evangelism – over their secular work. Nothing is wrong with spiritual development, of course. But, this vision of creation’s destiny can easily result in the abandonment of the physical world of work. Or, it can generate the opposite reaction. As the writer, Dorothy Sayers, put it: “How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of (their) life?” (from Why Work?)
Disillusionment with a spirituality that is divorced from ordinary life causes many of us to wonder if something is wrong. Is what we believe misguided, when so much of life is excluded from meaning? The good news of the gospel is this. God became a physical, flesh and blood, human being in Jesus. Not only that, Jesus was raised physically from the dead and is, forever, a transformed, embodied human being. That means God is interested in our physical – as well as our spiritual – life. All of it. God creates, loves and has a good destiny for the physical world.
So, what does that mean practically for us?
The most obvious implication is to take our work seriously as the “theater of God’s glory”, to borrow John Calvin’s phrase about the creation.
God takes our work seriously and that work will have consequences – forever. That last part is hard to believe and even harder to imagine. Still, that is the profound implication of the gospel of Jesus. To quote Miroslav Volf again, “The noble products of human ingenuity, ‘whatever is beautiful, true and good in human cultures,’ will be cleansed from impurity, perfected, and transfigured to become a part of God’s new creation. They will form the ‘building materials’ from which (after they are transfigured) ‘the glorified world’ will be made,” (p.91, Work in the Spirit).
What an astonishing claim, and one that should invigorate all of our work, even the most mundane.
A second and less obvious implication for us is to work at living a fully integrated spiritual and physical life.
Just as the spiritual life should not dominate the physical, neither should our concerns for the merely physical dominate the spiritual. We must take the discipline of developing the spiritual and physical dimensions of our life and work with equal seriousness. And, we must think of our life as an integrated whole, rather than as two separate and distinct spheres. In an age where both the secular world around us and some of our own religious traditions lead to a bifurcated life, this takes intentionality and perseverance.
Our whole human life is destined for transformation, including “whatever is beautiful, true and good” of our work. If that is true, then our work is worth doing well. To quote the Apostle Paul, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NRSV).