When Work Is a Pain

When Work Is a Pain

If you want to make promises that hard work yields great reward, Proverbs is the goldmine of texts. But it is not the only voice that speaks into the workplace. The Old Testament story of Job is a dissenting voice to wisdom.

Job did everything he was supposed to do and lost it all. Some have suggested that Job was written as protest to the simplified proverbs promising that if we do “a” we will get “b.” Sometimes we do what is right and suffer for it.

Job’s friends all had Ph.D.’s in wisdom but were declared by God to be dead wrong.  Suffice it to say there is no divine guarantee that if we do the right things we will get the results we want. There is rogue suffering in our world. And sometimes our vocation finds us right in the middle of it.

Moses’ life would have been more serene tending sheep on Horeb, but God called him to work in a place where babies were being smothered, humans treated like dirt, and power vested against freedom. Moses was given no leverage except the word of the Lord. The case can be made that, similar to Job, it all turned out good in the end. But Moses never got to wiggle his toes in Promised Land dirt or dance the jig of freedom. He did the heavy lifting and others tasted the joy.

Paul, formerly known as Saul, is another case in point. His resume as a worker for God would include:

  • 5 floggings of 39 lashes each
  • 3 times beaten with rods
  • 1 stoning
  • 3 shipwrecked nights
  • 1 day and night adrift in the open sea
  • Significant experience in dangerous situations (bandits, wilderness, enemies)
  • Work settings characterized by sleep deprivation, starvation, nakedness
  • Experience in escaping death threats
  • Rival leaders in the organization
  • False characterization (big talk, little action)
  • Numerous imprisonments
  • Trial experience in Roman courts
  • Death sentence

I’m not sure any of us have a resume like this. But we do have our own experiences in the workplace. At times, we work in places marked by sexual harassment, bullying, demeaning put-downs, favoritism, violence, cruelty, unreasonable demands, ungodly work hours, back-stabbing comments, energy-draining days, and spirit debilitating bosses. In short, we suffer.

There is a brokenness among us that must be brought before God.  We have been hurt, lied to, taken advantage of, manipulated, raped, stabbed in the back, neglected, divorced, and robbed.  What shall we do with this stuff?  The world offers no place to take it. The church invites people to bring it with them to corporate worship and confess the brokenness to God.

It is healthy to admit what is wrong in front of God.  We can say right out loud that our lives aren’t what we’d hoped they’d be.  Or even more, what God wants them to be.  We can admit that our workplaces are stained by darkness. We can declare that we hurt deep inside.  We can utter our sickness and grief, our failure and sin.  We can admit what is bad about the world we live in.  Rogue suffering is real.

I am not suggesting that suffering entails quiet complicity with wrongful treatment. Being quiet in the face of human destruction is rarely the way of God.

Our suffering is to be in keeping with the suffering of Jesus, which culminates in crucifixion and resurrection. This is our calling, our vocation in the world. We bear the pain of the world so that the crucified love of Christ may be experienced through us.

This post is an excerpt from When Christians Clock In, which will be published in 2014.

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