Today’s guest post comes from Reggie Robinson, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between faith, vocation and work.
What does it mean to be human? Is a human being a soul imprisoned in a body (Plato), an isolated thinking thing (Descartes), consumers that are moved and shaped by an invisible hand (Smith), a being-for-the-other (Lèvinas), or perhaps something else? The answer to this question, for the Christian, must stem from the religious ground motive of creation, fall, redemption, consummation. From this Christian religious ground motive, it is observed that human beings normatively play a critical role in the development of the world in each of its sovereign spheres.
Beginning with creation, the cultural mandate establishes that humanity was created to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it, and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Humanity was given a task, a normative role to play in the interworking of God’s good creation. One sees this in action in the naming of the animals (Genesis 2:19) and in God’s very own forming of the world, in which humanity, as image bearers, are called to replicate. Work is normative, and thereby does not derive as some product of the fall.
However, the fall does have its ramifications on work. As the story goes, in order to be fertile and increase in number, there would be birth pains (Genesis 3:16), and in order to rule over the various facets of creation, humanity would have to battle weeds, it would become more tedious (Genesis 3:19). All of creation had been disrupted by the fall from grace. What sin did was corrupt and distort, but it does not destroy, God’s good creation. Ultimately, with humanity’s fall, it put humanity at odds with the divine, one’s neighbor, oneself, and nature.
As a mediation factor in these conflicts, God provided grace and redemption. Grace in the temple/church to assist in ones relationship with the divine, the state to legislate ones relations with ones neighbors, and a savior to reconcile all things to Christ-self (Colossians 1:20). What one sees develop are specific normative spheres, that are endowed by God, for humanity’s benefit including: the ecclesial, economic, scientific, familial, gubernatorial, aesthetic, etc. Humanity normatively must function within each of these spheres. Humanity is tasked with guiding each sphere in accordance with its creational calling as it has been set free from the bondage of sin in Christ’s death on the cross.
The once-for-all sacrifice of Christ ushered in a kingdom, a kingdom in which Christians, as renewed creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), participate in. This must be understood as the now-but-not-yet kingdom of God. While the final New Jerusalem is ultimately of a divine origin, specifically in in its offering the final cleansing of the creation, yet humanity is not called to a passive role. Rather each person is called upon to use their skill set in each of the sovereign spheres to build up the kingdom of God. Everyone is necessary and equally valid, from the pastor to the farmer, in the kingdom (1 Corinthians 12:21). Each is called upon to use the skill set that God has given them for the development of creation, towards the kingdom of God.
One’s I-ness is thereby not derived as isolated thinking things or even necessarily in ones relationship to another, nor is ones placement here an accident or some form of imprisonment, but rather there is a much higher calling, a calling to image God in every way. To be Christ’s ambassadors as if Christ was making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). The appeal Christ makes in each individual is going to look different, to some are given the task of parenting, to others the task of businessperson, and yet others a task of missionary. But even these various tasks must not define one’s I-ness, for the individual must encompass more than the role one plays in any individual sphere. I-ness is in fact an indissoluble cohesion of the role one plays in each of the sovereign spheres, roles that, for the Christian, are ultimately rooted in the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation religious ground motive.