the gift of work

In his book Free of Charge, Miroslav Volf speaks about the gift of work. This is what he says (p 107):

[T]he gift of work is the primary means by which God gives what we have … God gives us life, powers, and abilities, and so we earn and possess. We’ll earn and possess so we can give, as when we share our food with the hungry; we’ll give even while earning, as when we create goods and offer services with dedication, care, and wisdom; and we’ll give even by possessing, as when we open our home for others to enjoy.

When it comes to work, the past couple of months have been quite unsettled and bitsy (particularly as Natalie and I transition a little unevenly from study for me and work for her to study for her and work for me). But I think God’s been teaching me that the work that enables us to earn a living — and share and contribute and extend hospitality — is something we have to be offered, given. Not something to which we’re automatically entitled.

More, it’s not something we can just make happen for ourselves — not only because any power or ability that we might have is given us by God (cf. Deut 8.11-18), but also because reality itself in the (God-given) concrete contexts in which we find ourselves working can either facilitate our labours or obstruct them.

I guess it’s ultimately about whether or not we’re working with the grain of reality. Whether we’ve been invited — given the opportunity — to work. Here. Now. With these people, these tools, this material, etc. Or whether we’re trying (presumptuously) to lay hold of it for ourselves.


  1. second paragraph.. do you mean that not even the fact that work is “given” to us, but the working out of work is to a certain extent outside of our control?

    1. Hi Jenny,

      I think I was trying to express how God’s gift of ability to carry out work — ‘the working out of work’, as you put it — is more than just a matter of us being ‘internally’ powered and sustained by God but also has to do with the ‘external’ context in which we find ourselves attempting to work (our relationships in an office context or the quality of the available materials in a workshop — either of which can massively effect our ability to achieve/produce).

  2. What I’m hearing is : humans are as much as affected by creation itself.
    This becomes interesting as we think of the command to have dominion over the earth.. Maybe dominion isn’t a unilateral concept.. thoughts?

    1. Totally. The image Barth used for human dominion was like riding a horse. You can guide and move the horse where you want, and at a pace that suits you, but it’s not simply a matter of willing and it becoming reality (we’re not God after all). Rather, there’s got to be give and take, and — most importantly — an understanding between horse and rider.

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