It is no secret that we hear calls for “socialism” more and more often. Many people, especially the younger among us, and especially in the middle of an election year, tout this thing as a kind of panacea to our economic ills. There is inequality, it is said, so the solution is socialism. Some people don’t have access to health care the way we would like them to, so we advocate for something called “socialized medicine”. But I’m not so sure of a couple of things. First, I’m not sure most of us can define and identify socialism. Second, I am quite sure most of us have not thought about the genuine benefits of good work done by people of virtue.
There are genuine benefits to good work done by people of virtue.Tweet
This second idea is one I think is rich in concept and implication. The actual works of our hands can be done in a way that show love to our neighbor, provide necessary goods and services, alleviate the sense of purposelessness among many, and lift people out of material poverty.
One wonderful organization tackling this issue, specifically through the lens of churches and pastors, is Made to Flourish. The header link on their homepage right now says, “Work Needs a New Story”. I like that thought. They write:
What should we do with the fruits of our labor? When we view our work hopefully and redemptively, this question is answered in two ways. First, we start to view our personal resources (financial and otherwise) as a chance to contribute to God’s kingdom.
Second, generosity banishes the idols of materialism and greed in our lives, and helps us become more like Christ – our identity is not in earthly possessions, but in the bread of life.
Maybe instead of defaulting to a vague, undefined, and destructive notion like “socialism”, we should begin to think “hopefully and redemptively” about what we do for work.
My work both uses and produces my personal resources. The kinds of talents and abilities I have get utilized in my work. Not all of them get used, but some significant portion of them do. My work creates something that is of use to others, and not just to my employer. My work also brings me a paycheck. With that paycheck I pay for all kinds of other work produced by all kinds of other people. I pay for things from coffee and lawnmowers to mortgages and groceries.
What if I begin to think about my resources, both the kind that get used in work and the kind that are the result of my work, as part of God’s kingdom? What would that look like?
And secondly, I can begin to treat my resources through a lens of generosity instead of stinginess or selfishness. My dad, a long-term pastor, used to say that the antidote to greed is generosity. Instead of wondering what the next dollar or acquisition can do for you, what if we begin to think about what the next dollar or thing can do for someone else?
And generosity doesn’t always mean giving stuff away. What if it meant employing someone who needs it? What if it meant connecting your lawnmower to someone who can benefit from both the labor and the income?
The church can and should give work a new story.
Pastor Phil, thank you for another erudite and necessary post. Modern discussions of socialism often make me think of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech- “If a man stumbles, it is a good thing to help him to his feet. Every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. But if a man lies down, it is a waste of time to try to carry him; and it is a very bad thing for every one if we make men feel that the same reward will come to those who shirk their work and to those who do it.”
It is easy in our age of comfort and ease to forget, or dismiss, the (God-given) purpose and value of work. Labor is a blessing; for through labor we can take part in the stewardship of creation, provide for our families, and give of our knowledge, talent, and resources to others in need.
I really appreciated your point that the compensation we earn from work allows us to support the work and talents of others, joining us in mutually beneficial community and allowing us to support one another with the varying talents and abilities God has given to each of us. Thank you for all the thought you put into these posts!
Zach – thanks for the reply and for the reference to the Roosevelt speech. I had not run across that quote before.
There are several quotes from within that speech which are poignant to the socialism discussion. Not to inundate you with quotes, but two more that are particularly good:
“We are bound in honor to strive to bring ever nearer the day when, as far as is humanly possible, we shall be able to realize the ideal that each man shall have an equal opportunity to show the stuff that is in him by the way in which he renders service. There should, so far as possible, be equality of opportunity to render service; but just so long as there is inequality of service there should and must be inequality of reward.”
“the reward must go to the man who does his work well; for any other course is to create a new kind of privilege, the privilege of folly and weakness; and special privilege is injustice, whatever form it takes.”
Too many today forget that the intent of the founders of our nation was to equally protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” but pursuit does not guarantee success.
LikeLiked by 1 person