With the rebirth of the modern plague and the draconian measures taken to stop its spread, jobs have disappeared in the hundreds of thousands. Partially because of this, and partially because of a good sermon I attended a few months ago, I wanted to take a look at modern views on work.
Work is often seen as a means to an end. You work, get paid, and get on with life. As a result, people throughout history have been pushing for a shorter amount of work time and more compensation for their work. We have a two-day weekend, and eight hours per week. People often view this most recent crisis as a chance to move to a work-free utopia, as Noah’s kin said of old.
Six days of work is an imperative. It’s not a shellfish law, designed specifically in order to distinguish the Israelites, as God told Moses and Aaron; it’s situated in the midst of “no false idols” and “no murder,” universal laws in every way. Beside respect for the Sabbath is a clarification to work six days, and to finish “all your work” in those six days. It’s much too important to leave to finagling. In fact, the Israelites gathered a double portion of food before the Sabbath to ensure that their week’s work was complete.
There is a further empirical argument for work. God’s commands may not always make sense at the time but often make sense after a while. The reason for work, however, is immediate and apparent. America has a longer work week and a similarly larger GDP per capita compared to the rest of the Western world. The nouveau riche have, through their work and not through their inheritance, achieved wealth that nobility and royalty could never dream of. For nearly the past century, the tallest buildings were built and owned by the captains of industry. Hard work pays off, while sloth cannot be productive. Quick explanatory biblical references include the Parable of the Talents and several proverbs, but there are legions more.
So, what is the extent to which we should work, besides mere scheduling? What is “all [the] work” mentioned in the Bible? In the story of manna, people gathered in different amounts but all achieved enough. Most people in the United States, and even in the world, are eating enough to get by. Automation is making human work less and less relevant. “All [our] work,” enough to pay for rent, be fed, and support our families, can, depending on the job, be as much as four days’ work, let alone six, or even a mere government check. The recent house arrest of hundreds of millions has made the uselessness of most work abundantly clear, as farms and shops can still move food to the masses with ease. Our imperative is still to work, however.
Should we revert to a point where our work has more meaning? Certainly not; the Amish might be able to feed themselves, but they cannot feed the millions outside their small sphere of influence, let alone the billions worldwide. Rather, we should be striving to find new technology, new items to explore, and new content to produce through which we can pour our work. Novels. Videos. Machinations and models. Business building and management. All are ways, private ways, in which we can maintain our work ethic while still providing others with potential enjoyment. Will it be successful? Probably not, seeing the already oversaturation of low-barrier markets (video games, videos, and books, to name a few). Still, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands for rest, and your poverty will come running, and your lack like an armed warrior” (Prov. 24:33-34). If we do not seize our sixth days, we will lose them to idle pleasures.
This is a difficult lesson for everyone involved, including myself. Our work may not be the hardest, but it is certainly the most mentally taxing in human history. A sixth work day is exhausting to even imagine. But our road was never meant to be an easy one. The hard work of our fellow humans have taken us to the stars. Ours will take us to the arms of God.