Is Our ‘Religion’ of Work Failing Us?

It’s a paradox: Just about everyone has to work in order to survive, but for many, work is less and less fulfilling. So says Benjamin Hunnicutt, a professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa and author of the 2013 book Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream.

Hunnicutt delivers a somber verdict on the notion that a 9-to-5 job will provide personal fulfillment alongside a paycheck. He worries that “our belief in the everlasting creation of new work to sustain eternal full-time, full employment is one of history’s all-time, fantastic utopian dreams.” He adds, “There is the need to propagandize work to ensure a pliant labor supply, but there is also the drive for maximum profit, which ultimately means replacing as much human work as possible by cheaper machines.”

A trip to your local fast-food restaurant, where you can now place your order at a kiosk instead of speaking to a human, confirms this trend. One burger joint in Pasadena, California, took automation a step further with a robot, dubbed “Flippy,” taking over some of the duties of meal-making, though it soon had to be taken offline because the machine worked faster than the human employees there could keep up.

Hunnicutt also asserts that “work is failing as a faith.” Millennials, he writes, “depend less and less on their jobs as the place to realize their dreams,” adding “[m]any others feel ‘betrayed by work,’ having made it the centerpiece of their lives and a key source of happiness only to realize how dispensable they are when things go wrong, for example, if they are passed over for promotion, sidelined, or laid off.”

The good professor may have a point when he writes, “We all might reclaim ownership over more of our lives” rather than working ourselves to the bone. He writes that many millennials, and others, are pursuing “experiences” rather than accumulating material possessions in order to find greater meaning in their lives.

Of course, the good news for Christians—and, actually, for everyone—is finding that greater meaning doesn’t have to involve a trek to the Amazon or a pilgrimage to the Himalayan Mountains. You can find a wonderful source of meaning and purpose in life right where you are, once a week, on a day many call the Bible Sabbath. In English, it’s called Saturday, but in Spanish, French, and a hundred other modern languages, it’s called the Sabbath.

At the end of the world’s first “workweek,” the Creation week recorded in Genesis 1 and 2, we read, “On the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2). In verse 3, we’re told God “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

So, from the foundation of the world, God had established a day of rest—a day on which man could reflect on what God had done. Throughout the Bible, we read about how the Sabbath is intended as a day of joy and gladness, a day for worship, relaxation, family togetherness, and enjoyment of the world God created.

Spending the Sabbath day focused on things that do not involve work may not solve the existential crisis Professor Hunnicutt is concerned about, but it could be a great start. If you would like to know more about how to keep the Sabbath day holy, as God commanded in Exodus 20:8–11, click here to read Pastor Doug Batchelor’s article, “Seize the Day: Keeping the Sabbath Holy—Part 2.” It offers excellent scriptural counsel.

Written by Mark A. Kellner

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