Forcing people to seek happiness in the wrong places

Forcing people to seek happiness in the wrong places November 15, 2014

By Jake Belder; originally posted on his blog.


Dorothy Sayers, in her essay, ‘Why Work?’, is highly critical of economies that are based solely on production and consumption, and in particular, how they negatively affect our conception of work. Writing from the viewpoint of wartime Britain, she observes that reckless consumption has so thoroughly devalued work that workers are now solely perceived as cogs in the production machine. Sayers believes that it is to society’s detriment to continue to operate in this way, and that instead we need to radically reshape our understanding of human work.

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She is not alone here, and this is a theme picked up by many other Christians writing on the subject of work as well, such as Edward Vanderkloet, who, in his article, ‘Why Work Anyway?’, in the edited collected, Labour of Love: Essays on Work, notes that when we devalue work in this way, we should not be surprised that people end up pursuing happiness in all the wrong places. He writes,

Work is meant to ennoble mankind. Work should provide us with a profound sense of satisfaction; it should give us a sense of self-fulfillment. For a factory not only shapes products, it also shapes people. A nurse not only helps the patient, she also helps herself. It is, therefore, deeply tragic that countless workers in our society are deprived of the satisfaction of accomplishment due to the nature and structure of their work. Such people are virtually forced to seek happiness in leisure and the possession of goods (39).

As Christians, we are rightly critical of those who make idols of things like leisure and material goods. But it is not enough for us to simply tell people to give up these things and to instead satisfy their desires in Jesus. There is a sense in which that is true, of course, but to simply say that in response to what problematic economic structures have done to our conception of human work only spiritualises and downplays a very real problem.

If we believe that work is something fundamental to being human, then we need to commit ourselves to working towards a culture and society which puts economic structures in place that give proper dignity to human work. When we do that, we will indeed help those whose desires have been wrongly ordered to find satisfaction in Jesus, but not in some overly-spiritualised way. Rather, it is because in seeking to redeem economics and work, we are both bearing witness to and offering a taste of the redemption of all of creation that comes through Christ’s Kingdom, and pointing to the reality that Jesus satisfies our desires and brings life in all its fullness when we allow him to rule over ever part of our individual and collective lives.


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