In his latest book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, Timothy Keller quotes Robert Bellah from his book I remember as required reading in grad school called Habits of the Heart. Bellah observes that modern “expressive individualism” eats away at the cohesiveness that ties us together as a people and makes our work meaningful and productive. Something more is needed. He writes –
To make a real difference [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.
Reflecting on this, Keller identifies streams within the Christian Scriptures and particularly in his own Reformed Christian tradition. One of these streams flows from Martin Luther. Keller notes –
The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor. When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, “the fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others.
What an invigorating thought!
When you are changing the dressing on an elderly woman’s wound, you are touching her with the fingers of God.
When you are serving up yet another macaroni-and-cheese dinner for your cute yet often ungrateful 3-year old, the fingers of God are wrapped around the serving spoon.
When you are replacing a cracked window on a neighbor’s house to keep the December winds from blowing in, those cold, numb fingers are God’s.
Yes, it’s clear when we labor with our hands doing something constructive for the common good, we are agents of God’s love. But what about so much other “work” we do?
What about the work of writing? Is writing the work of God that builds community or part of the “expressive individualism” that eats away at the common good?
I think both. Certainly, when we write we are expressing an aspect of ourselves in the hope that we might be noticed, affirmed, “liked”. Yet, another key desire is to connect with others and perhaps even offer a word of hope in a lonely, discouraging word.
Writing is meaningless drivel when our aim is to inflict our selfish desires on a world that doesn’t really care. Writing becomes God’s work when we reach out beyond ourselves and find a way to speak a good word to a lonely soul.