If work is part of God’s plan for us, why is it so laborious? That’s one of the questions Tim Keller implicitly sets out to answer in his book Every Good Endeavor, a timely read that is shaping my New Years’ thinking. Keller’s piece, subtitled “Connecting your work to God’s work,” provides a thoughtful yet concise theology of work (as in occupation). As a person who thought a good deal about the connection between work and faith as a student, and who is now further exploring these issues in her first year as a working professional, I found this book to be an excellent resource and jumping-off-point for further comprehension and application of the topic.
Like many of Keller’s books, the resounding theme of Every Good Endeavour is redemption. Even the book’s organization illustrates this concept – Keller first discusses work as it was meant to be, next describes the way sin interferes with these purposes, and finally explains how the Gospel restores work to its inherent value. Throughout the book, Keller emphasizes that work can be redeemed, in all its gritty frustration, providing a sense of hope and meaning in day-to-day efforts.
Keller’s redemptive message is in many ways countercultural. In a society where choice of vocation often seems central to identity as well as social status, Keller boldly counters that all work, in a Christian framework, is inherently dignifying. In contrast to the view that work is simply a “demeaning necessity” from which the privileged are exempt, Keller argues that the value of work is not dependent on its compensation, or the amount of education it requires, or the quality of life it affords. If we ask ourselves “work, what is it good for?,” the answer, for Keller, is that all work is dignifying insofar as it allows man to emulate and obey God. Beginning in Genesis, God instructs man to “subdue the earth,” setting him apart from the rest of creation as one made in his own image. Any acts of creation, commerce, or service found in today’s vocations can be directly linked to this original charge bestowed upon mankind to cultivate the earth, both materially and socially. In this way, every job contributes in some way to mankind’s collective productivity and complex societal structure.
Keller provides a poignant example of a man who worked as a doorman in a city high rise. While our culture would not typically consider such a job desirable, this man took his position seriously, serving the inhabitants of the building with an astounding degree of grace, humility, and joy. This man’s striking example illustrates Keller’s point regarding work’s inherent dignity. Any position can be seen as an opportunity for service and contribution to a greater good – whether it be running a country, or improving the atmosphere of a high-rise lobby.
Every Good Endeavor is encouraging. Today’s educational environment often emphasizes finding one’s passion, “saving the world,” or simply pursuing monetary success; broad vocational options, paired with disillusionment over one’s limited ability to make large-scape impact, often leads to distress over career choice. By offering a new perspective on the cosmic significance of work, Keller reorients readers from using work as a way to self-define or self-promote, to viewing it as an inherently meaningful opportunity to glorify God and support human society.