The Work of Our Hands

The Work of Our Hands September 7, 2015

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”
Psalm 128

Image via Pixabay. Public Domain.
Image via Pixabay. Public Domain.

In the Old Testament, a heartfelt blessing and prayer is that the one who works should enjoy the fruit of that work.  There is almost no image of blessing more evocative and profound than this–the image of making or doing and getting to enjoy what one has made or done.

It’s a picture of heaven itself, according to Isaiah. Right after–and I mean right after–“zero infant mortality” and “everyone making it to the centenary club” is “getting to enjoy what you have made, cultivated, or done.”

“They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”
Isaiah 65

If this is heavenly–first, to know that every child born will live a long life, second, to know that you yourself will live a long life, and third, to know that you may work to make the years full as well as long–then the opposite is hellish.

To bear children you know you must bury, to know that you yourself must die too young, and to be obliged to work for the enrichment of another without yourself ever benefiting from the good your hands have made and grown and done: this is to live in hell.

It makes for a pretty good checklist, doesn’t it, for judging the relative justice of a society? Can people protect and enjoy those more dear to them than themselves? Can people enjoy their own lives for as long as humanly possible? And can people expect, by and large, to benefit from the work they do?

And it’s an interesting reflection for those of us who work for pay, as well as for those who pay people who work for pay.

Virtually everyone in the developed world benefits from her labors only by proxy. We work for money, which allows us to purchase the benefits we would like to enjoy from our labors. Very rarely do we enjoy the direct benefits of our professional work. Most of the direct benefits of my professional work are not mine to possess anyway–as an educator, I work primarily for the benefit of my students. But even those who build things and grow things and create things generally built, grow, and create them in order to sell or exchange them.

We work for money, which is to say that we work for a representation of what our work means to other people.

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