The fundamental problem in Christian thinking about work is dualism. That dualism leads to a hierarchy of what matters most. These two statements are at the heart of chp 1 of Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, and I’d like to discuss these two statements today.
Humans are frequently frustrated with work; Christians have added a layer of complexity and frustration. This Christian frustration emerges from how “salvation” is perceived.
Two themes create the ambivalence and frustration:
1. The providential sense of vocation: each of us is called by God to our work.
2. The testing of what work matters the most by judging to what degree it is eternal.
The first conflicts with the second, and leads to devaluing the first. On top of this,
3. Christians value directly spiritual vocations over less direct vocations, even ranking which spiritual vocations are most valuable. So, we have clericalism and work spiritual-rankings.
Here’s one way he puts it: “God has called a chosen few to serve by focusing on eternal, lasting matters, while he has called others to serve by focusing on earthly, less ultimately important, matters” (18).
Cosden then weighs in on the papal encyclical by Pope John Paul II: Laborem Exercens. The papal encyclical is a strong, prophetic critique of materialism that invades work.
But, Cosden sees the papal document as offering a dualistic theory of work. The distinction between the objective/material aspect of work and the subjective/spiritual aspect, with the latter more significant than the former, while it clearly restores the spiritual to work, tends toward dualism and hierarchy of callings and vocations.
So, Cosden asks this question: “Is it our work itself that has value in and for eternity, or is its eternal value found only in what our working does to our souls?” (29).