A Christian Philosophy of Work

by Stephen Palmquist

1. A conceptual framework for understanding work

Before we can intelligibly discuss how we as Christians ought to understand our work, both in general (as world-citizens [see 2] and citizens of the kingdom of God [3]) and in our own particular context (as citizens of Hong Kong and China [see 4]), we must form a clear understanding of what the term "work" means. At first sight, this common word does not appear to require any special explanation. It's meaning seems obvious. However, one English dictionary cites no less than 44 different definitions for "work", ranging from "sustained physical or mental effort to achieve a result" to definitions such as "to excite, provoke" and "to move slowly in relation to another part"!1 With such a high potential for equivocal usage, the importance of adopting a specific conceptual framework for this study becomes apparent. Of the many ways of defining work, one of the most fruitful, from both a philosophical and a theological standpoint, is the one suggested by Hannah Arendt nearly 40 years ago, in her ground-breaking book, The Human Condition. In this section, let us therefore briefly examine her main thesis, then discuss how we might supplement it in order for it to serve as a suitable framework for constructing a philosophical theology of work from a Christian perspective.

The whole structure of Arendt's book is based on a fundamental distinction she makes in the opening pages, between three types of "activity": labor, work and action.2 Although in ordinary language these terms (especially the first two) are often used interchangeably, most languages (like English) nevertheless preserve different terms that, upon closer investigation, appear to have distinct meanings. Thus, labor is any form of life-sustaining effort that is rooted in the "biological process". Work is any form of creative productivity that results in "worldliness" (i.e., in the construction of a "world" of man-made artifacts, as distinct from nature as such3). And action is any form of activity that necessarily involves a "plurality" of human beings relating to each other; as such it is the "the condition ... of all political life."

Arendt later points out that these terms denote the type of activity that is most characteristic of animals, God and human beings, respectively.4 Humans, of course, participate in all three levels of activity; but because our proper or natural level is that of mutually free action, our participation in the other two levels is fraught with danger. Engaging in labor subjects us to a kind of animal necessity that essentially amounts to slavery.5 Likewise, when engaging in creative activity, whereby we bring into being artifacts in a way that is presumably analogous to the way God brought nature into being, we must beware of the fact that we are stepping out into a realm that in a real sense is not our own. The "human condition", as Arendt sees it, inevitably involves all three types of activity; the challenge each of us must face, then, is how to balance them properly and cope with the quite different problems that typically accompany each.

The profound simplicity of Arendt's ground-breaking distinction makes it highly useful for the following study; nevertheless, I believe it is deficient in one significant respect. Immediately after describing the three levels of activity, Arendt introduces the classical distinction between the "vita activa" (i.e., the way of activity, encompassing all three levels) and the "vita contemplativa" (i.e., the way of inactivity, as practiced in certain types of monastic tradition).6 Although this new distinction is undoubtedly helpful, her application of it is open to question. Reacting against what she sees as a long-standing bias in Christian circles for passive contemplation, Arendt sets out to place active engagement in center stage, virtually isolating the latter "way" from the former. Such an extreme stance may have been necessary in order for her to develop the comprehensive analysis of labor, work and action that follows in the remainder of her book. But for the purposes of constructing a mature philosophical theology of work, a more balanced view of the relationship between the two "ways" ought to be adopted.

Many mystics and contemplatives, including the best of the early Church Fathers, regard the way of activity and the way of contemplation as thoroughly interrelated.7 Just as one cannot stay awake for very long without eventually falling asleep and cannot live forever without dying, so also we must not regard work (or any of the other forms of activity) as something that can be understood apart from its polar opposite. A genuinely complete framework for a Christian philosophy of work should therefore include a threefold distinction between types of inactivity that directly corresponds to Arendt's threefold distinction: the life-sustaining effort of labor can exist and prosper only when properly balanced by effortless times of leisure (typically occurring mainly on weekends and holidays); the creative productivity of work can exist and flourish only when properly balanced by inefficient times of play (as when a crucial insight comes after work, while our mind is occupied with trivialities); and plurality of action (human beings relating to each other) can exist and be fruitful only when properly balanced by solitary times of rest (as evidenced by the necessity of sleep, and ultimately, death itself). In each case, the pair must be seen together, as two sides of the same coin, rather than as mutually exclusive "paths" that one must choose while abandoning the other altogether. The resulting framework can be represented as follows, with the way of activity and way of inactivity being depicted as downward and upward pointing triangles, respectively:8

Viewing this diagram as a basic "map" to guide the course of our discussion, we can use the term "complement" to refer to the pairs of terms on either side of a double-headed arrow (e.g., work and labor), while "opposite" refers to the pairs of terms located in the same position on different triangles (e.g., action and rest).

This diagram highlights two interesting parallels between the three terms for activity and the three terms for inactivity. First, "play" and "leisure", like the complements "work" and "labor", are technically distinguishable from each other, but commonly used interchangeably. Just as work and labor often occur together, yet can be distinguished upon reflection, so also play normally takes place during our "leisure time" and leisure activities9 often involve some form of play, yet the two are technically very different. If playing a game requires too much effort, then it ceases to be a form of leisure and becomes a form of labor. (This explains why game-playing can be so addictive, constraining us to submit to the "necessity" of the game's rules, just as slaves are constrained to serve their master.) Likewise, if we use our leisure time to create products that have an objective (e.g., monetary) value that transcends our own pleasure at having made them, then such activity ceases to resemble play and becomes instead a form of work. The point is not that in such cases play or leisure, respectively, is wholly transformed from a type of inactivity into a type of activity, but rather that each is closely related to both its complement and opposite, as well as to its complement's opposite, and that this demonstrates the need for a sharp distinction between the two.

The second parallel is that, just as "action" (a cognate of the general term "activity") is typically regarded as including both "labor" and "work" and as referring to a type of activity that synthesizes and yet transcends the others, so also "rest" is the closest in its triad to being a synonym of "inactivity", and as such, encompasses yet goes beyond the meaning of the other two. Given Arendt's special, politically-charged definition of action in terms of things we do in response to the plurality of human relationships, we must be careful to regard the word "rest" throughout this essay as technically limited to the true opposite of action: ethically-charged events that "happen" in the privacy and solitude of our own soul. So rest can take place just as readily when we are engaged in the care-free inactivity of game-playing as when we are engaged in the unproductive inactivity of leisure; but as we shall see in 4, it can also refer to a higher form of inactivity that transcends both.

By integrating Arendt's insightful threefold analysis of the vita activa with a corresponding emphasis on the vita inactiva, we have now established a suitable framework for constructing a philosophical theology of work. In order to narrow the scope still further, we shall focus our discussion on how this sixfold framework of activity and inactivity impinges on the jobs we as Christians take up in order to earn our living. (That is, the term "job(s)" will be used throughout this essay to refer to paid employment.10) Before we can discuss practical details relating to being a Christian at work, two foundation stones must be laid. Our procedure in the remaining sections will therefore follow a threefold pattern that corresponds to the triangles in the diagram given above. The next section will examine job-related activity from a philosophical standpoint. In so doing we shall find that philosophers have been concerned above all with jobs involving labor, and that the conflict between the two main philosophies (namely, capitalism and socialism) can be resolved only when we take note of how leisure relates to both systems. We shall then modulate in 3 to a theological standpoint, from which the problems relating to our job-related activity will turn out to be bound up with how we view the interconnection between work and play. This will prepare us to contextualize our discussion in 4 by discussing some practical issues relating to the tension between action and rest that tend to arise in the Hong Kong workplace.

2. Labor and leisure in perspective: philosophical reflections on animal activity

The philosopher's life is a life of leisure. Many philosophers--including myself at times--might be reluctant to agree with such a maxim, on the grounds that philosophical reflection is often anything but "leisurely" (in the common sense of the term). The life of thought requires a person to struggle relentlessly with the most difficult questions ever posed by and about human existence on earth. Yet, in terms of the framework adopted in 1, it is evident that a person can "make a living" out of mental activity only in a cultural context that provides other means of satisfying the necessary demands of biological life (see e.g., note 5, above). If "labor" refers to jobs that involve a struggle to produce the physical necessities of life, then philosophers obviously contribute little (if anything) to this realm of human existence. Their job seems to have much more in common with what would normally be called "leisure".11

In order to be philosophically tenable, a Christian theology of work must respond effectively to the philosophers who have shaped our idea of what it means to have a job. Perhaps as a result of the antithesis between labor and thought (as a form of leisure), few classical philosophers devoted much attention to this topic.12 Moreover, the first thinker to treat work as the focal point of his whole system was reluctant to call himself a philosopher! Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a philosopher--a true man of thought--even though, as a socio-economic/historical critic, he preferred to think of himself as an enemy of philosophy. In contrast to most past philosophers, his goal was not merely to describe the world, but to change it. Marx regarded philosophy as a symptom of society's sickness, and believed it (like religion) would naturally die out once the disease is healed.

Basing his criticism of Western culture on a reversal of Hegel's dialectical conception of history,13 Marx argued that human beings create their own nature through their work. "Work" here refers mainly to what people do in their jobs, and especially to those whose jobs require them to labor (in Arendt's sense of the term): "labor (and not God) created man", who is to be regarded not in Aristotle's sense, as a "rational animal", but as "animal laborans".14 Marx observed the capitalist economic system that pervaded Western Europe in the 19th Century and constructed an insightful theory to explain why it is intrinsically harmful to laborers. In a capitalist economic system, a minority of wealthy people own the machines and property needed to produce all life-sustaining necessities; they hire the poorer people (the majority) to do the labor that produces the goods. In order to make a profit, the price of the goods must, by definition, be set higher than the cost of the labor. Yet this economic law at the heart of all capitalism creates a tragic alienation between laborers and the product of their labor. Since we are self-defining creatures, our nature determined by what we do in our jobs, the owners of capital have set up a new form of slavery: laborers do not own the products they make, so they are in effect selling themselves to the capitalists.

Marx believed the solution to this problem is for the laborers to revolt, forcibly taking possession of the means of production. After passing through a temporary phase of socialized industrial economy, society will eventually be transformed, according to Marx, into a perfect communist state, requiring no class structure, no government, no private property and no money. People would be able to realize their nature by freely contributing their own creative work to society, to the point where nobody would need to submit to the humiliation of laboring in a self-alienating situation. As history has demonstrated, however, this ideal society has not emerged from the socialist state. Instead, new forms of alienation have arisen: state control separates socialist laborers from the products of their labor just as much as the profit margin does for their capitalist counterparts (if not more so).

Marx's theory is filled with subtle ironies. First, this staunch defender of the superiority of labor (as the authentically human, self-defining activity) over thought (as essentially unproductive) never himself held a steady job! Instead, he spent many years of his life inside libraries, writing his thoughts For this he was supported by money sent by Engels (see note 13, above), who himself owned a textile factory! Marx devoted his life to anti-philosophical (pro-labor) writing, yet in doing so, he produced what are now regarded as some of the most influential philosophical writings of the past 150 years. Arendt points out another fundamental paradox in Marx's position: he defines human beings as laboring animals, yet the purpose of revolution (the highest form of activity for Marx) is to abolish labor, thus freeing mankind from its necessity. "We are left with the distressing alternative between productive slavery and unproductive freedom."15

An important point about Marx's philosophy of labor that is not often recognized is its consistency with the major philosophical reflections on labor that preceded him. Although earlier philosophers had not raised labor to the status of a self-defining activity, several had discussed its socio-economic significance in some detail. John Locke (1632-1704), for instance, had argued that "labor is the source of all property" and that the main function of money is to provide a way of saving labor's products from being of short duration.16 But most significantly, Adam Smith (1723-1790), in his great capitalist manifesto, The Wealth of Nations (1776), treated "labor as the source of all wealth".17 From Smith's time forward, most economists have taken for granted his main point, that a nation's wealth is measured not by the amount of gold or silver it possesses, but by the amount of consumable goods it produces. Smith's book is partly descriptive of the economic situation in 18th Century Europe, and partly prescriptive. For instance, he accurately predicted that a more sophisticated division of labor in the future would result in a wider margin between the available workforce and the amount of labor that needs to be expended in order to produce enough goods for all consumers. The ever-increasing surplus that results from this margin, whereby "the labor of some suffices for the life of all",18 has not only given more people than ever before an opportunity to pursue non-labor-intensive jobs, but has also given rise to a fundamentally new phenomenon that has radically changed how the average person views his or her job: the phenomenon of leisure.19

Although Marx argued against Smith's capitalistic views in many respects (most notably, by rejecting Smith's conviction that self-interest is a sufficient motive to insure a nation's general economic stability), these two rival theorists actually shared one key assumption: that labor gives value to the goods we produce. This assumption, however, is precisely what I believe a Christian philosophy of work must call into question. For its effect, as history has shown, is to compartmentalize human life into two discrete spheres: the activities we must perform in order to sustain life (either by making money, according to the capitalist ideal, or by contributing to the common good, according to the socialist ideal), and the other activities we perform in order to "spend" the value we (either as individuals or as a community) have accrued by our labor. The altruistic communist slogan, "give [labor] according to your ability and take [goods] according to your need", is rooted in this dualism between labor and leisure (giving value and taking value) just as much as is the self-centered capitalist slogan, "leave the people alone" (so they can enjoy as much leisure as possible with a minimum amount of labor).

An ever-increasing awareness of the supposed importance of leisure activities has been the West's most significant response to the Marxist critique of capitalism. The surplus of time made available by ever-improving forms of machine-oriented division of labor has prepared the way for this response:20 the "leisure industry", as it is often called (somewhat ironically) could flourish only after the working week was shortened, vacation times extended, and retirement ages lowered. Far from being the solution to the problem of labor, however, I believe the advent of leisure as a focal point of modern society--indeed, typically viewed as the very purpose for having a job (i.e., to make enough money to have fun in our spare time)--is a far deeper symptom of the very sickness Marx recognized, but misdiagnosed, 150 year ago. Marx believed capitalist-owned labor forces were producing a society of slaves, with religion and all other non-materialist aspects of culture (including philosophy) serving only to placate their misery. But I believe the true problem was (and still is) much deeper.

The social problem exacerbated by Smith's emphasis on wealth, yet ignored by Marx's misdiagnosed call for revolution, is that human beings were themselves already beginning to separate themselves from the work of their hands. The reason "leisure activities" have only come to be regarded as a necessity over the past century or so is not that people were previously unaware of how miserably hard it is to stay on the job all day long; rather it is because before the distinction was made between labor and leisure, the fulfillment we tend to associate with leisure activities ("fun") was assumed to be part of what a good job would provide. The craving for leisure, in other words, is a direct outcome of the loss of meaning in our labor. When labor comes to be viewed by the general public as a merely animal-like activity that is best fit for a machine, then all jobs gradually come to be forced into the same compartment, as a necessary evil that must be endured in order to stay alive.

If philosophy is a profession that has more in common with leisure than with labor, as I suggested at the outset of this section, then does this not confirm Marx's conviction that philosophy is but a symptom of the modern socio-economic situation? Yes and no. It confirms his critique for all philosophers who treat their jobs (usually teaching jobs) as primarily a good way of making enough money to support their non-philosophical activities. Such an attitude is ultimately self-contradictory. But philosophy need not be thus. For the philosopher--and here the philosopher is no different from any other job-holder--can also refuse to accept the artificial division between labor and leisure imposed on us by past two or three centuries of modernization. By viewing the life of thought as at once leisure and labor--as, indeed, a form of leisure that is labor (in Arendt's technical sense: a genuine life-sustaining expenditure of energy)--philosophers can overcome Marx's most fundamental critique, disarming his argument at his very heart. Philosophizing then becomes a playful work (see 3, below) that synthesizes the highest aspects of labor and leisure. Adapting a famous statement of Kant's, we can say that self-defining labor without leisure blinds us with alienation (as Marx taught), while leisure without self-defining labor is empty of any true meaning (as Smith taught).21 The highest lesson to be learned from these twin insights is that labor and leisure, though distinct, ought not be viewed as separate. Every act of labor we perform should be imbued with the spirit of leisure. And every moment of leisure ought to be an aspect of the labor that sustains our life.

The result of the two great philosophies of labor (as proposed by Marx and Smith) has been a polarization of interpretations of the relation between labor and leisure: the conflict between capitalism and socialism has been the main feature of 20th Century economic theory. Yet, how important is it to common laborers whether they are fulfilling their life-sustaining efforts as part of one ideology or the other? In most cases, very little. What this suggests is that the Christian's main concern, when discussing issues relating to labor, should not be ideological but attitudinal.22 Christian attitudes toward labor will produce good fruit in either system, whereas unchristian attitudes will destroy either system from within. The key, as we shall see in more detail in the next section, is avoid the mistake made by both Smith and Marx, by always putting leisure in its proper place. For when leisure is allowed to become an aspect of our labor (and vice versa), we can transcend the confines of our politically-determined circles and enjoy a solitude (even if our leisure activities are spent in the company of others) that frees us to perform all our labor in a spirit of love. To do this is to become imitators of God. The alternative --to sell ourselves into economic slavery for 40 hours each week so that we can spend another 40 hours relaxing in front of the television23--is to reduce ourselves to an animal existence that has more in common with the lifestyle of domesticated pets than with divine personhood.

The main philosophical question that arises from the foregoing discussion is as follows: if the activity of labor is really just a form of slavery, as Arendt's analysis implies, then how can freedom ever be attained by those whose jobs require them to devote most of their time to the labor that provides for the preservation of life for all those in our culture? We have seen that both the socialist (Marxist) and capitalist (Smith's) interpretations of labor do not provide a viable solution to this problem. But our supplemented reconstruction of Arendt's framework provides at least a hint of a way forward. A philosophically sound solution depends on the laborer's ability to think of his or her job in a new way, transcending the bondage of necessity that defines such situations and taking refuge in the rest that is implicit in all true leisure. Our tentative solution, then, is to emphasize that, in return for being given the privilege of living a life of leisure, one of the philosopher's chief responsibilities is to give back to the laborer a way of thinking that can free the mind even of the person who is, for all practical purposes, a modern slave. I submit, though, that philosophy on its own can never fully succeed in this goal; it must at some point defer to theology.

3. Work and play in perspective: theological reflections on divine activity

The theologian's life is a life of play. This may seem at first sight to be as--if not more--fanciful than the notion that the philosopher's life is one of leisure. Yet I believe careful reflection reveals this to be profoundly true, at least in potential. Whether this insight is good news or bad depends in both cases on whether the opposites are viewed as united (in spite of their diversity) or as alienated (belonging to different "compartments" of life). For just as labor (i.e., life-sustaining effort) assumes a community-oriented perspective that requires a sense of philosophical leisure in order to be properly balanced, so also work (i.e., creative productivity) assumes an individual-oriented perspective whose proper balance requires a sense of theological play. In order to elucidate this point, let us explore how "work" is viewed in the Bible. I shall then suggest that prayer--the most individual of all expressions of theological belief--reaches its highest expression when it is experienced as a synthesis of work and play.

The claim that there is a specifically religious notion of work--a possibility Arendt largely neglects--raises an important theological issue: can there be any "work" that is uniquely directed toward God? Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential of all Western philosophers, argued that there can be "no special duties to God".24 But his main concern was to guard against the tendency religious people often have to neglect their human duties in order to engage in various religious activities they believe God has commanded (e.g., to pray for a needy person instead of offering to help). Whether or not Kant's view is justified is an issue that lies beyond the scope of the present inquiry (but see note 30, below). What is more relevant is the simple fact that the word "work" is often used to refer to a religious profession--i.e., a calling or vocation. Missionaries, for example, often refer to their ministry as "the work".25

Examining the 370 occurrences of the word "work" in the NIV Bible reveals some scriptural basis for this usage. God's creation of the world is described as a "work" (Gen. 2:2-3), and human beings are put in a garden to "work the ground" (2:5,15)--an activity that continues even after the fall (3:23).26 The difference is that, in order to "work the ground" outside the garden, Cain becomes a "restless wanderer" (4:12). Work is then reduced to mere labor, and what used to be a free gift from God becomes a commodity that can be traded. For instance, Jacob has to work for seven years in exchange for a wife (29:15,18), and then another seven after Laban deceives him by giving him Leah instead of Rachel (29:27,30). When the children of Abraham move to Egypt, the chief sign of their changing fortune is when the Egyptians, fearful of their growing numbers, ruthlessly force them to work (i.e., labor) as slaves (Ex. 1:12-14). And the closer the people come to heeding God's voice (e.g., by asking to hold a special festival of praise [5:1]), the more Pharaoh intensifies their work (5:1-18). No wonder God's Law, as given through Moses, commands them not to work on their holy days: "On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat--that is all you may do"!27

The first reference to "the work", in the special sense pointed out above (see note 25), comes when the Lord commands the people to build a "Tent of Meeting": "everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting"; some brought gold jewelry, others brought fine linen, silver or bronze; "and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it.... All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do."28 Here we see certain typical features of "the work" in this special, religious sense: it is commanded by God (cf. Ex. 39:42-43); it is done willingly, not by force (as the labor imposed by the Egyptians had been); it is based on individual gifts, yet aims to fulfill a community goal; and it encourages individual creativity.29 With these principles, the people freely gave more than enough, to the point that "the people were restrained from bringing more" (36:6)!

Exodus 40:33 tells us that "Moses finished the work." Passages such as this should not be interpreted as if they refer merely to the labor involved. The point is not that an activity requiring much toil had finally been completed, but that Moses had finished a creative act in obedience to the Lord. Moreover, numerous passages indicate that "the work" continued even after the tabernacle was built (see e.g., Num. 3:7-8; 16:9). Thus Numbers 4 is all about the various people who carried out "the work", while Numbers 8 describes the Levites' special responsibilities relating to "the work" (see also 18:4,6,21,23). Many similar references to "the work" occur in the historical books of the Old Testament in connection with the construction of the temple (see e.g., 1 Chr. 28:10,13; 28:20-29:7) and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 2:69; 3:8; 4:24; 5:8; 6:7-8,22; and Neh. 2:16ff; 4:11-21).

The most notable of the other aspects of "the work" that are also evident in the Bible is that God's creative work continues even after the initial creation. Human beings, for instance, "are all the work of his hands" (Job 34:19; see also Ps. 8:3). The Ten Commandments are also described as "the work of God" (Ex. 32:16); and even this work is part of an ongoing process, for God promises that if the people keep His Law, others "will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you" (34:10). This work of God is beyond our understanding (Eccl. 11:5) and is therefore to be respected by all people (Is. 5:12). Even the bad weather that forces us to take unexpected rests can be interpreted as an aspect of God's work (Job 37:7): "So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor."

Becoming aware of God's work is important because we were created in order to participate in it. When we do so properly, our "work will be rewarded" (see 2 Chr. 15:7), just as God "blessed the work of [Job's] hands" (Job 1:10). Thus God blesses "the work" of those who give generously to God's work (e.g., Deut. 14:29; 15:10; 24:19), who celebrate the Lord's feasts (Deut. 16:15), and who obey His word (Deut. 28:1,12; 30:8-9). Proverbs repeatedly supports a strong work ethic, assuming that hard work produces good fruit more or less automatically (see e.g., Prov. 12:14; 14:23; 22:29; 31:17; Eccl. 2:10) and condemning those who are lazy in their work (Prov. 18:9; 21:25). A problem arises only when we begin to worship the products we make (Deut. 27:15). This is how "other gods" come into existence: false gods are all "the work of men's hands" (2 Chr. 32:19; see also Is. 2:8 and Rev. 9:20). We can avoid such an error by remembering that our work is ultimately meaningless (Eccl. 2:17-24); rather than worshipping our own creation, we can thereby learn to enjoy our work (Eccl. 2:24; 3:22; 5:19; 8:15), whether our jobs require hard labor or more "leisurely" activity.

Jesus develops and deepens this attitude toward work in his teachings on the kingdom of heaven, especially in the parables, where a certain playfulness is often evident. Those who treat their jobs too seriously will be appalled by the suggestion that a person who works in a vineyard for just an hour should be paid the same wage as someone who has labored all day. Yet Jesus presents this attitude to work as an essential characteristic of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 20:1-16). His frequently repeated maxim, that in God's kingdom "the last will be first, and the first will be last" (e.g., 20:16), is (among other things) a playful reminder not to treat our earthly priorities too seriously. The parable of the talents (25:14-30) reveals how mistaken are those whose attitude toward earthly things ("talents") is so cautious that they fail to take the risks necessary in order to put God's gifts to work (25:16).

Jesus does not deny the value of work (whether creative or merely laborious), but challenges us to put all our work in its proper theological perspective by regarding the most important work as resting in God's presence. The story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) effectively illustrates this point: by opening her home to Jesus, Martha outwardly seems to be fulfilling the great law of love, like the Good Samaritan (10:25-37); yet her "work" is really just labor because it is done without a sense of being with God; paradoxically, by simply resting at Jesus feet (10:39), Mary accomplishes a far greater "work" in God's eyes. Likewise, Jesus tells a crowd, who had pursued him after he had miraculously used a boy's lunch to feed them all (John 6:1-15), not to "work for food that spoils but for food that endures to eternal life" (6:27; see also 4:34 and Rom. 14:20). The people, mistakenly thinking he is talking about some kind of religious duties, ask Jesus to tell them what "works God requires" (John 6:28). He responds by explaining that "the work of God" is the inner work of faith (6:29).30 Jesus viewed his participation in this work as an opportunity to glorify God (17:4); and numerous New Testament passages clearly indicate that Christians are charged with the awesome responsibility of completing "the work" that Jesus began (e.g., Acts 14:26; 15:38; 1 Cor. 15:58; 16:10,16; 2 Cor. 8:11; Phil. 2:22,30; Col. 4:17).

Perhaps the most telling indication of Jesus' playful understanding of his kingdom work is his habit of calling God "Abba"--the term used by children to refer to their "Daddy". This enables Jesus to cut through traditional religious attitudes on numerous occasions, as when he interprets a man's blindness not as a result of some hidden sin, but as a simple expression of "the work of God" (John 9:1-3)--in this case, an opportunity for healing. The Sermon on the Mount, especially its blessings and woes (Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:17-26), is bound to be misinterpreted if its playful tone is overlooked; for Jesus is once again cutting through the over-serious attitude we often have toward our tears and laughter, failures and success, in religion as much as in our jobs. Exhortations such as love your enemies, pray with few words, stop worrying about trivialities, and trust in your heavenly Daddy's good gifts are peppered with examples that radiate with deeply moving forms of humor. The images of people cutting off various body parts (Matt. 5:29-30), welcoming abuse from others (5:39-41), being as perfect as God (5:48), or doing something with one hand without the other hand "knowing" (6:3), like the images of birds or flowers "laboring" in order to survive (6:26,28) or parents giving stones to children instead of bread (7:9) could be disastrous if taken too literally. Their playful character does not make their point less genuine, but intensifies the lessons Jesus is teaching.

Is Jesus' playful attitude toward life in his Daddy's kingdom fundamentally new? Yes and no. The Old Testament does portray God as having a sense of humor, of sorts: especially in the Psalms, God is portrayed as laughing at the wicked (2:4; 59:8), "for he knows their day is coming" (37:13). In Proverbs Wisdom says something very similar to the fools who won't listen: "I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you" (1:26). Perhaps more importantly, various people are said to laugh when God's work is manifested among them: after giving birth to a son in her old age, Sarah says "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me" (Gen. 21:6); the captives whom "the LORD brought back ... to Zion" say their "mouths were filled with laughter" (Ps. 126:1-2); and the "wife of noble character" (Prov. 31:10) "is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come" (31:25). And even though the whole book of Ecclesiastes portrays all human actions, especially our work (e.g., 3:9), as being "vain" and "meaningless", the author nevertheless encourages us to recognize the playful paradox that, by putting "eternity in the hearts of men", God "has made everything beautiful in its time" (3:11). The message here is that we should adopt a light-hearted attitude toward our work, instead of allowing the "burden" (3:10) to weigh us down. All work in itself is vain and meaningless, yet "everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it" (3:14).

These passages provide a helpful context for interpreting Jesus' attitude; yet none match the new depth he reaches in revealing the playful heart of God. Resting in God empowers us to be creative in our work. And this creativity frees us from the bondage to labor (see note 5, above). Machines are the modern slaves; but they will enslave us to them if our use of their services is not rooted in a deep rest that allows for a playfulness in working with them. The lesson to be drawn from the foregoing analysis, therefore, is that with a proper understanding of how all our activity (whether it be labor, work, or action in Arendt's classification) is part of the divine work, we can learn to approach all our activities with a sense of theological playfulness that breeds the joy of creation. Learning to enjoy our work, to see it as divine play rather than assessing it with ordinary human criteria, will not only encourage anyone whose job involves a high degree of hard labor; it will also protect anyone whose job involves a high degree of creativity from the idolatry of putting what we create in the place that belongs only to our Creator.

As we begin to see how our work is really a form of divine play, the other side of the coin gradually becomes apparent: activities that appear useless by ordinary human standards are revealed to be essential to "the work". The most significant example for Christians is prayer. Of the many Christian writers on prayer, one of the most insightful is Thomas Merton, a 20th Century Cistercian monk acutely aware of the complementary relationship between work and play. In his book, Contemplative Prayer, Merton points out that "prayer is not a struggle to keep recollected in spite of work ..., but flows from everyday life and is in accord with work ...: it is indeed an aspect of the monk's work, a climate in which the monk works, since it supposes a conscious awareness of and dependence on God."31 Referring to the writings of numerous monks before him, Merton brings to light the dialectical relationship between action and rest: "all life on earth must necessarily combine elements of action and rest"; prayer, too, will inevitably be sometimes "laborious" and "unconsoling", yet at other times "almost without effort".32 The paradoxical goal of the monk's disciplined life of regular (if not constant) prayer is to reach a state of contemplation wherein "the soul rests in God and God works in the soul".33 A healthy balance between disciplined activity (such as liturgical prayer) and rest (such as contemplative prayer) therefore requires us not to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other.

Merton's insights can be directly applied to the relationship between work and play: as Christians, we should aim to achieve a dialectical balance between these opposites, leading ideally to a complete synthesis. All too often we regard prayer as a work of such seriousness that any sense of playfulness is excluded from it. Perhaps in response to this tendency, recent movements in some charismatic churches have laid great stress on the role of laughter and joy in prayer. Relating this insight to our job situations should not be difficult (though putting it into practice might be!): in order to raise our jobs to the status of being "work"--i.e., in order for our divinely given creative ability to be properly manifested in our daily jobs--we must learn to play as we work and work as we play.34 People who learn to view their jobs in this way inevitably discover that they no longer feel any need to depend on "leisure" as a way of escaping from the drudgery of their jobs: all their activities become aspects of "the work" that is their life in the making.

Only when we approach our work from the foundation of the deep, inner silence provided by prayer can we truly put ourselves into our work. This, I believe, is the theological key to being a "good" or "successful" worker. The true measure of success in one's work is not how high the pay or how many awards are received; rather, it is how much of oneself is given away. There are no simple rules as to how to do this; each person is bound to be different. I once read a story, for example, about a person with Down's Syndrome who transformed the supermarket where he worked by putting little "thoughts for the day" into the customers' bags as he packed their groceries.35 And at Hong Kong Baptist University, where I work, one of the security guards makes a special effort to give each passer-by a big smile and warm greeting each day. For some people, to do such things would be an inauthentic expression of good will. The point is not to copy these examples, but rather for each of us, regardless of how high or low our position may be in our job, to find ways of injecting a creative spirit into what we do. If it is an authentic expression of our spirit, then I believe the Holy Spirit will be present in a powerful way, each time it is expressed. And when that happens, the distinction between play and work is totally transcended in the strength that is "the joy of the Lord".36

4. Action and rest in perspective: Contextual reflections on human activity

Life in Hong Kong is a life of rest. Such a description of what is arguably the most active place in the world might seem absurd, especially during this year of the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China. Yet for Christians living in Hong Kong, this ought to be as true an insight as the need for philosophers to labor in leisure and for theologians to work playfully. Indeed, nothing could be more appropriate in 1997 than to focus our contextualization of the foregoing philosophical theology of work on the third and final mode of activity in Arendt's framework: action (i.e., human relationships, especially in the political--but I would add, also in the moral--sense).

As we have seen, labor is human activity viewed from the perspective of the community: the value of what we do is measured by how well it supports and prolongs the life of the society. Work, by contrast, is human activity viewed from the perspective of the individual: the value of what we do is measured by how well it exhibits the kind of creative input Christians associate with the image of God. Action, in order to realize its potential as the form of activity most appropriate to human beings, must combine the good points of labor and work without being sucked into the extremes that endanger both (e.g., the "herd" mentality on the one hand, and alienated "individualism" on the other). To do so, we must recognize that action is human activity viewed from the higher-level perspective of communion: the value of what we do must be measured in terms of how well it supports (or detracts from) the cooperation of individuals in loving mutual relation. In this closing section, I shall offer some sketchy reflections on how a citizen of Hong Kong at this crucial time in its history37 can learn to act in this way.

In the Hong Kong context Arendt's highly individualistic division between three types of work could prove to be somewhat problematic. For in Chinese culture, relationship is a value that permeates every aspect of a person's activity. In other words, we cannot simply compartmentalize "action" (human relationships) as if it were somehow separate from "work". Anyone who wishes to fit well into a job in Hong Kong must insure, then, that in all their work they give the highest priority to their acts--i.e., to the way they initiate and foster good human relationships.

In one respect, this focus on relationship is wholly consistent with the Christian gospel. Christianity, of course, is all about love, which is and must be a heart-centered issue of relationship rather than a head-centered issue of discreet individuals doing their "jobs" in isolation from each other. Christians can, in this respect, promote what is best in Chinese culture by actively fostering love in the workplace. Unpacking what this entails is no simple matter. Since this is not an essay on love, let it suffice merely to say that when we see our work through the eyes of love, we will put other people's well-being at an equal (if not higher) priority than our own. In another respect, however, the cultural focus on relationship that we who work in Hong Kong all experience can have a negative impact, one that actually goes against the grain of our Christian commitments. One of the deepest spiritual afflictions that plagues Hong Kong is deception, a problem closely related to an over-emphasis on the importance of maintaining good relationships. When we live and work in a context that tells us our success will be measured by the depth and fortitude of our relationships, there is an almost irresistible temptation to hide the truth from those whom we love. This is as true of family-life in Hong Kong as it is of church-life, life in the workplace, and government.

From a Christian point of view, deception is, of course, a work of the Devil, not of God, and is to be resisted in principle. In many black-and-white situations, this is obvious and should cause no theoretical difficulty for the thoughtful Christian. Though there may be a practical difficulty (e.g., bringing deception to light may entail considerable risk, including the loss of one's job), the awareness of what is (or would be) the right thing to do is as clear here as it would be for a Christian living in any non-Chinese culture. However, there are some cases in which deception is a more subtle issue: when hiding the truth appears to be not merely a prudent way of maintaining a "good" relationship by avoiding conflict, but also the most genuine way of demonstrating love, then which principle (honesty or love) should a Christian follow?

This question is exceedingly difficult to answer. To illustrate this difficulty, let me share part of a personal exchange I once witnessed between a man and woman who had been married for many years. Somehow our conversation touched upon something that reminded the woman of some marital unfaithfulness her husband had confessed to her many years before. Referring indirectly to those past, hurtful events, the wife declared with a tone that belied some residual bitterness: "You were so selfish to tell me about those things you did. Why couldn't you just have kept it to yourself?" Apparently the husband's desire to be honest about his wrongdoing had spoiled the wife's ability to trust in the depth of his love. Obviously, in an ideal situation, honesty and love would go hand in hand: neither spouse would have been unfaithful to begin with, and both would be willing simply to "forgive and forget" if the other were to confess unfaithfulness. But in the real world, life rarely matches our ideals!

To some extent, resolving such conflicts between potentially opposing principles such as honesty and love must be a matter of each person's prayerful consideration before God. For a wise choice will inevitably require a judgment as to what level of honesty another person is capable of dealing with. The point I wish to make here is simply that those who live and work in a Chinese context will be much more likely to err on the side of dishonesty than on the side of love, whereas those who live and work in a Western context are more likely to err on the side of a less-than-loving "brutal honesty". Persons from both backgrounds would do well to learn from the other culture's bias. In so doing, our actions are more likely to be permeated with the divine rest that lightens the load of our labor and intensifies the satisfaction derived from our creative work.

A much more obvious problem faced by Christians living in Hong Kong (or in any capitalist country) is that money tends to be viewed as the principle means of solving problems. For example, I once met a Christian who was convinced that, before he could effectively spread the gospel in Hong Kong and China, he needed a million dollars. He had elaborate plans (good plans!) as to how this money would be used. But money is not the solution. Money will enable us to build good human institutions, such as Hong Kong Baptist University. This institution originated as a classic case of "the work", with all the struggle and hardship this usually involves. Most of its current administrators still have a strong sense of Christian vocation as they attempt to make best use of the riches that have come their way. The danger is that, because its recent wealth has come primarily from the government, there is a strong temptation to praise and, in effect, even worship, the good work this institution is doing in educating "the whole person". But when this happens, the work of human hands inevitably eclipses the ultimately more important work being done by the hand of God.38

For a Christian--whether in Hong Kong or Helsinki, Taiwan or Texas--the only genuine rest is the rest of God. "Rest" in this sense refers not to mere idleness (i.e., ceasing one's labor), but is the highest expression of creativity, the pause that follows and is founded upon every truly creative work. Just as God's Creation of the world is complete only when he rests on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2). (This is depicted in the diagram given in 1 by the fact that rest occupies the highest point, being the only form of inactivity that transcends labor and work.) Every other form of rest, whether it be leisure, play, or some other type, is ultimately unfulfilling. Leisure and play, without the spiritual grounding provided by the rest of God, are perhaps the greatest and yet least recognized forms of idolatry plaguing modern society. So innocent they seem. Yet the impetus behind all the "money-making" idols in contemporary capitalist culture is the false notion that having money will allow us to enjoy our times of rest with more relaxing leisure activities or more pleasureful play, in the form of better homes, better cars, better vacations, etc. When the idols of leisure and play are crushed, however, the love of money loses its power to tempt us, thus empowering us to see in all our action (or rest), work (or play), and labor (or leisure) the creative and redeeming hand of God. Then we can affirm for ourselves the prayer of Psalm 90:17: "May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us--yes, establish the work of our hands."

Stephen Palmquist

Hong Kong, May 1997

Selective Bibliography on Work

Anderson, Nels. Man's Work and Leisure. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974.

Anthony, P.D. The Ideology of Work.2 New York: Tavistock, 1984.

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Best, Fred (ed.). The Future of Work. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973. See especially Chapter 1: C.W. Mills, "The Meanings of Work throughout History", pp.6-13.

Bocock, Robert. "Ideologies of Work", Unit 15 (pp.63-85) of Work, Culture and Society. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985.

Brown, Stuart C. and Alasdair Clayre. Work, Morality and Human Nature. Milton Keynes: The Open University, 1978. See especially 4: "Work and Human Nature", pp.39-48.

Clayre, Alasdair. Work and Play. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974.

D'Amico, Robert. Marx and Philosophy of Culture. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1981. See especially Chapter 1: "Marx's Concept of Labor", pp.1-15.

Dubin, Robert (ed.). Handbook of Work, Organization, and Society. Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Co., 1976. See especially Part I: "Work and Leisure", pp.1-62.

Fromm, Erich. Marx's Concept of Man. New York: Unger, 1961. See especially Chapter 5: "The Nature of Man", pp.24-43.

Illich, Ivan D. Tools for Conviviality. London: Calder & Boyars, 1973.

Joyce, Patrick. The Historical Meanings of Work. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology. Tr. C.J. Arthur. New York: International Publishers, 1970.

Merton, Thomas. Contemplative Prayer. New York/London: Doubleday, 1969.

MOW International Research Team. The Meaning of Working. London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1987.

Palmquist, Stephen. Biblical Theocracy: A vision of the biblical foundations for a Christian political philosophy. Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1993.

Parker, Stanley. Leisure and Work. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.

Pieper, Josef. Leisure, The Basis of Culture. Tr. Alexander Dru. London: Collins, 1965.

Ng, Pedro Pak-tao. Recent Trends in Work and Leisure in Hong Kong and Higher Education's Response. Hong Kong: Centre for Hong Kong Studies, Institute of Social Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1986.

Smigel, Erwin O. (ed.). Work and Leisure: A contemporary social problem. New Haven, Conn.: College and University Press, 1963. See especially Chapter I: B.M. Berger, "The Sociology of Leisure", pp.21-40.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1910.

Thompson, Paul. The Nature of Work: An introduction to debates on the labour process.2 Houndmills, England: Macmillan, 1989.


1 Longman New Universal Dictionary (Harlow, England: Longman, 1982), p.1128.

2 Arendt, pp.7-9. Citations in this form refer to books listed in the Bibliography at the end of this essay.

3 Nature can be properly called a "world" only from God's point of view, as its Creator. For a further elaboration of this distinction between "nature" (as God's creation) and the "world" (as mankind's creation), see my book, Biblical Theocracy: A vision of the biblical foundations for a Christian political philosophy (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1993), pp.93-95.

4 Arendt, pp.22-23.

5 Arendt, pp.83-84. Arendt points out that the ancient Greeks justified the ownership of slaves on the grounds that this was the only way citizens could be free from the necessity associated with labor; in order to do so without contradiction, however, they were forced to regard slaves as non-human. From this perspective, slaves cannot act, so they need not be regarded as human. Later (p.107), she contrasts this Greek view of labor, as essentially evil, with the Hebrew view of labor as essentially good.

6 Arendt, pp.12-17.

7 For a good historical overview, see Merton, pp.29-66. Merton's views will be discussed briefly toward the end of 3.

8 This figure is based on Figure 12.3 in my book, The Tree of Philosophy (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1995); its structure is organized according to the principles established by the Geometry of Logic, as set out mainly in Chapters 11 and 12.

9 This common phrase is an interesting oxymoron in light of the framework suggested above! Technically, leisure is a form of inactivity, not activity; for in leisure our focus on establishing serious, historically-significant relationships with other human beings ceases and the things we do are governed not so much by the political norms that govern our society as by the ethical norms that guide each individual conscience. Nevertheless, as we shall see, one and the same event can often be interpreted from several (or even all) of the perspectives in our framework.

10 Many writers, especially those with a sociological bent, cite this as the best (or at least, most obvious) definition of "work". See for example: Anderson, p.3; Dubin, p.41; MOW, pp.2-3; Parker, p.1; and Smigel, pp.29-30.

11 Arendt regards thinking as totally unrelated to all three of her categories of activity (see Arendt, p.90). This, no doubt, is why she regards the "vita activa" as her sole concern (see e.g., pp.16-17). One of the main points of the present essay is to argue that any attempt to follow this "way of activity" is bound to fail unless we recognize its complementary relationship to the "vita inactiva", as epitomized by philosophical reflection. Along these lines, Aristotle viewed leisure as one of the central aims of living (see Smigel, p.26)--although he surely had in mind something very different from what we now think of as "leisure"!

12 Thus, there is no entry for "work" in the voluminous Encyclopedia of Philosophy!

13 For Hegel (1770-1831) all historical change happens according to the "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" pattern, where each "synthesis" progressively spiritualizes the preceding "thesis". But for Marx (especially as interpreted by his lifelong friend and financial supporter, Friedrich Engels [1820-1895]), the true order begins at an illusory spiritual level and progresses through a forced antithesis to the more purified material level of the thesis.

14 Arendt, p.86n. On p.101 she adds that for Marx, "labor became the source of all productivity and the expression of the very humanity of man."

15 Arendt, pp.104-105. See e.g., Marx, pp.10,59.

16 Arendt, p.101. See Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government, Chapter V. In 26-27 he persuasively argues that a natural object can be said to belong to a person only when labor transforms it into that person's property. This alone is what gives a thing its value (see 40): "For 'tis Labour indeed that puts the difference of value on every thing."

17 Arendt, p.101. The entirety of Book I in Smith's Wealth of Nations is devoted to a thoroughgoing analysis of the role of labor in producing wealth. Sigmund Freud, incidentally, claims "every civilization rests on a compulsion to work and a renunciation of instinct" and not "principally or solely in wealth itself and the means of acquiring it and the arrangements for its distribution" (The Future of an Illusion, tr. W.D. Robson-Scott and J. Strachey [Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1964], p.11). See also Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, tr. J. Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1961), p.27n.

18 Arendt, p.88.

19 Smith's main focus in Book I is on how to understand and improve the main function of labor, which is to provide the "necessaries and conveniences of life" (p.2). In other words, Smith's goal is to promote the growth of a nation's wealth so that leisure can be enjoyed. Obviously, leisure as such (i.e., as time to do things that are not directly related to one's job) is not new. What is new is the significance it has come to have in virtually all modern cultures. Scholarly attempts to understand this new meaning leisure has taken on in its relation to work began about 50 years ago, and have only flourished in the past two or three decades. For good overviews of the literature, see the books by Anderson, Parker and Smigel.

20 In her discussion of the role of machines in this transformation, Arendt warns that, although machines may reduce the amount of human input needed to labor, they are also in danger of reducing all creative work to mere labor (see Arendt, pp.144-153).

21 In his great Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1929), Kant says (p.B75): "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind."

22 Along these lines, Josef Pieper develops a religious interpretation of leisure as "an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul" (Pieper, p.50). In 3 I shall elaborate further on how an attitude of play can fulfill a similar function. See especially note 34.

23 Pedro Ng's research indicates that watching television is the most popular pastime among Hong Kong adolescents (see Ng, pp.8-16).

24 Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, tr. T.M. Greene and H.H. Hudson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), p.142n, emphasis added.

25 This practice has an interesting history. In the medieval discipline of "alchemy", "the work" referred to the alchemist's attempt to transform base metals into gold. For many alchemists, this served as a symbolic representation of the more profound "work" of transforming the alchemist's own personality (the "old man") into that of Christ (the "new man"). I discuss this further in Lecture 21 of Dreams of Wholeness: A course of introductory lectures on religion, psychology, and personal growth (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1997).

The epistemological status of this way of speaking is a matter of considerable philosophical interest, though it goes beyond the scope of our present concerns. In brief, the belief structures that accompany references to "the work", regarded as a person's religious "calling" or "vocation", can be classified as (paradoxically) both analytic and a posteriori. For an explanation of these terms and how they differ from the three more traditional epistemological classifications, see The Tree of Philosophy, Chapter 9.

26 Arendt makes a helpful distinction between pre-fall and post-fall "work" by regarding the former as "service" of the soil and the latter as "servitude" (Arendt, p.107n).

27 Ex.12:16; see also 20:9-10; 23:12; 31:14-17; Lev. 16:29; Num. 28:18,25,26; 29:1,7,12,35; Deut. 5:13-14; 16:8. The seriousness of this injunction is extreme: "Whoever does any work on [the Sabbath] must be put to death" (Ex. 35:2; see also Lev. 23:30). Lev. 23 (see vv.3,7,8, 21,25,28,30,31,35,36) repeats the injunction not to work on holy days no less than ten times.

28 Ex. 35:21-24,29. Exodus 36:1-7 uses the phrase "the work" in this sense eight times.

29 For instance, "the work of an embroiderer" is mentioned numerous times as a part of "the work" (Ex. 26:36; 27:16; 36:37; 38:18; 39:29). For other types of creativity, see 28:6,15,39; 30:25,35; 31:4-5; 35:32-35; 37:29; 39:3,8,22,27.

30 This, I believe, is the same point Kant was making when he denied that there are any special duties to God. See note 24, above.

31 Merton, p.33.

32 Merton, p.61. This complementary relationship between action and rest will be the main topic of 4, below.

33 Merton, p.59. Quoting Peter of Celles, he adds: "God works in us while we rest in him."

34 The "we" here is an important factor. Working together (i.e., jointly engaging in creative activity) can be a very effective means of bringing unity into otherwise troubled relationships. Along these lines, Thomas Moore suggests involving family members in our work as an effective way of making it more "soulful" (Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship [New York: HarperCollins, 1994], pp.86-87). Illich (p.50) suggests that learning to "work together and care for each other" is the "solution to the environmental crisis". Elsewhere, he relates this to the "disciplined and creative playfulness" that marks the foundation of friendship for Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas (pp.xii-xiii; see also p.60). Such an attitude can fire the imagination to deal creatively with whatever problems we face in our jobs.

Arendt only briefly mentions the possibility of synthesizing work and play in the way I am suggesting, suggesting that in this sense "the artist ... is the only 'worker' left in a laboring society" (Arendt, p.127). Whereas Anderson (p.11) discounts such a synthesis as "less a theory than a wishful approach to a complex situation", Best (p.3) predicts "a growing effort to avoid the compartmentalization of our lives evidenced by today's dichotomy between work and free time." And one of the "six major features" in Mills' analysis of "the ideal of craftsmanship" (in Best, pp.10-13) is the lack of any "split of work and play": "Play is something you do to be happily occupied, but if work occupies you happily, it is also play, although it is also serious, just as play is to the child." (The other five features are: a "supreme concern" for "the quality of the product and the skill of its making"; an exuberant willingness to continue the work "even if not paid"; a freedom to plan and control one's own work; an ability to use the work to improve skill and as a means of self-development; and lack of any desire to "flee from work into a separate sphere of leisure".) Mills believes the "realization" of this ideal "is impossible for the modern white collar worker." But this should not prevent Christians from approximating it in their attitude toward whatever job they may have.

35 Barbara A. Glanz, "Johnny", in Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (eds.), A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, 1996), pp.242-244.

36 Neh. 8:10. Note the connection this joy has with work in Deut. 16:15 and with Jesus in John 15:11 and 16:24. One of the best historical examples of this attitude toward work is Nicolas Herman (known as "Brother Lawrence"), the Carmelite mystic who learned to be as happy and fulfilled doing the most menial housekeeping tasks as he was when engaged in more obviously "spiritual" forms of work. See his book, Practicing the Presence of God.

37 I write this toward the end of my tenth year living in Hong Kong--a decade that is generally regarded as the most interesting in the territory's history up to now, due to the 1997 transition of sovereignty.

38 As a beneficiary of these human riches, I must hasten to add that I am not intending here to criticize any particular individuals or policies at Hong Kong Baptist University. Government funding certainly can be used to glorify God, and current administrators have done a good job of maintaining the institution's Christian witness under the circumstances. But every Christian in such a situation must constantly remember Jesus' ominous warning: "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matt. 6:24). My point, then, is only to emphasize the extreme danger of making "the work" (the divine call on our life) dependent on any worldly institution. I explore the possibility of using worldly structures as a part of God's Work in much more detail in my book, Biblical Theocracy.