Thursday, 27 November 2008

Darrell Cosden - The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work

Darrell Cosden used to work in Russia as a missionary, and over time he started to realise that, when people became Christians, their main ambition was to be able to leave their jobs and become missionaries just like Darrell and his friends: because that was the high point of being a Christian, right? Who wants to work in a shop when you could be working for the Lord? Darrell wasn't happy. Surely this wasn't right? Surely our ordinary work can be significant for more than just that it gives us the opportunity to tell people about Jesus?

So, he set about drawing up a theology that gave a more important role to the work most people do, most of the time. At the heart of his theology of work is something Miroslav Volf said:
"The significance of secular work depends upon the value of creation, and the value of creation depends upon its final destiny”
The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work picks up on a common theme amongst environmentally-minded theologians: the new heavens and the new earth. The new Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 isn't a brand new creation ex nihilo, but the old creation, renewed, restored, and transformed into something beautiful. It's a city – not the natural garden of Eden, but the ultimate symbol of human culture – and “people will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” Cosden, amongst others, takes this to mean that the the good things of human work and culture will have a place in the new heavens and the new earth. Our work matters, because it will last.

He makes five main points about our work:
  1. We are co-workers with God. To be human is to be called to built, to make, to shape the world through our work. As Adam (adam in Hebrew) tilled the earth (adamah) from which he came, so we in our work work on ourselves as well as creation, shaping both humanity and the whole creation in ways which will endure eternally. God invites us in our work to be his co-creators.
  2. Work is important, but it isn't everything. We mustn't forget the Sabbath, the principle of rest.

  3. We were made to be physical images of God. Our physicality isn't a result of the Fall, and we don't need to feel bad about being physical beings. We weren't created as finished products, and part of the process of becoming finished is our work on the physical world.

  4. Work isn't yet fully redeemed. The world is still broken, as our we: the work we do will always be ambiguous and imperfect, as well as boring and frustrating, but just as Jesus' hand still bore the mark of the nails in his post-resurrection body, so even the partial goods we create can be transformed and made beautiful.

  5. Work is already redeemed. Frustration and decay aren't the whole picture: we live between the resurrection and the ascension. The Holy Spirit in us enables us to imagine a new creation, and to work to begin the process of building it, right here, right now.

Good, eh? And after all that talk of work, I think I'll go and do some.

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