Moral Quandaries in the Workplace: Introduction
The modern workplace can be a moral minefield for some people, where issues aren’t always black and white, and from time to time we all feel the pressure of compromise pressing in on us. Whether it’s the socialising, the gambling, the gossiping, the complaining, the slandering, the coveting, the jesting or a host of other dubious issues, there are days when we struggle to stay afloat in the moral quagmire of the 21st century workplace. The people of God have always faced difficulties in this sphere, but the word of God can lead us through the murkiest of waters and help us not only to survive but to thrive in our work. Before addressing the specific dilemmas we face, this article will have a cursory glance at the Bible’s theology on work.
The doctrine of work begins with God himself. The triune God is a God of industry, labour and energy. The 6 days of creation are filled with words like “created, made, brought forth, yielding, fruitful, multiply and have dominion”. We read that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2); in vigour and enterprise the Spirit of God awaited the direction of God to fill the blank canvas of planet Earth. The Son of God was the divine constructor through whom all things were made (Col 1:16), he executing to perfection the plans of the divine architect. Little wonder that the end of the creation account reads; “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The triune God worked in harmony and community, to take the creation of the universe from conception to consummation. There were no project delays, no protracted consultation, no disjointedness, nothing lost from design to construction and no need for fine-tuning or commissioning, this was God acting alone for his own glory. This was work as it was meant to be. As with every job well done the worker has satisfaction and pleasure in the work of his hands, and so we read “God ended his work which he had made, and he rested on the seventh day” (Gen 2:2).
The basic point is that work is God ordained – for His glory and our good. You’d think from the average Monday morning conversation that work is a necessary evil to be endured. Our pleasure mad and entertainment addicted generation sees work as an intruding tyrant, getting in the way of weekend enjoyment. Since many in the world are here for ‘living life to the full’, work is seen as an awful hindrance to leisure and ‘me time’. While many pour their efforts into self-gratification, Solomon instructs us; “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc 9:10, NASB).
Another extreme to be avoided is the work addiction and career idolatry that can mark many today. Employment can become a religion in many industries where people’s identities are wrapped up in the business’ and enterprises they work for. The corporate world can quickly creep into every area of our lives, where we are constantly hooked up to the work email and are at the dictates of our employer. Let us all remember that we have “a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1) and we are to be spent in his service and not the service of worldly masters.
Ezekiel warns us of another pitfall to evade; “behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (Ez 16:49). Since the West is generally materially rich, we can begin to think that the world owes us a living and that the easy life is our entitlement. Sloth and ease can be a tempting past time in such circumstances, but one that we should avoid. This might be a particular pitfall for younger generations, who live in an era of delayed adulthood and avoid shouldering the yoke of responsibility. Speaking from experience, it’s easy in a university or graduate setting to live off loans, mooch around and live in virtual reality instead of the real world of hard work. To such the Bible says "go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise ... How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? " (Pr 6:6,9).
Adam before the fall was given work to do; "the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Gen 2:15). Man made in the image of God was to reflect something of God's industry and labour and in so doing, bring glory to his maker. As a result of the fall the workplace has suffered seismic changes. Mankind’s main spheres of work have also been affected with woman’s work in the home and man as a provider is now marked by strife, hardship and sorrow (Gen 3:16-19). Whether in the home or in employment, we all feel the affects of the curse in the workplace. How then can we alleviate its effects, and still work for the glory of God? Part of the answer is: “whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23, NASB). Work is an honourable occupation;the Lord himself was known as ‘the carpenter’ (Mk 6:3), the apostles ‘worked with their own hands’ (1 Cor 4:12) and the ‘Protestant work ethic’ has marked many Christians down through the centuries. Yes, the workplace has been influenced by the fall, but we can still labour in a way that navigates themoral minefield and work for the glory of God.