21 August 2008
I'm 65 years old - really almost 66, since my birthday is next month. I am very fortunate in my job. I like the people I work with. Although most of the work is pretty boring and frustrating at the same time, nevertheless I like getting the job - whatever it is - done. And I am aware that what I do is also a necessary service to help others in their work. And, by New Zealand standards, I am pretty well paid. Nonetheless, I think if this were not so - if my job were, say, working like mad at a petrol station - or having to be a night watchman with the combination of boredom and fear that that implied - I think even then I would choose working over retirement. Why is that? Work is a gift. I think it may be the greatest thing anyone can give us. A friend of mine wanted me to write - wanted me to start writing articles on various subjects. I said that I was unable to do so. The reason was that I could indeed write - had the ability to write, that is - when someone else wanted me to write something in particular. I don't think he really understood what I was getting at, and perhaps neither did I. He offered one or two topics that I could write about, but I now think that what I meant was that I wanted to believe that someone else was wanting me to write on a particular topic. I think this underlies the satisfaction of all work: someone else wants it done. Of course whether it satisfies depends on our attitude. And because the 'someone else' is always a fallible human being, sometimes we are conflicted in the business. Sometimes we are very conflicted and don't want to do the work at all. All work is the gift of God. Work is our part in His creative activity. And this helps. Sometimes it is all-important. For some work - the work I am doing in writing this, for example - the fact that one believes God wants one to do it is the only motivation for doing it. One day, nevertheless, I will no longer be able to work, at least at the University. Thank God we have no compulsory retirement age in New Zealand! Still, though I hope still to be working in five years, I cannot say about ten - or fifteen - or twenty. Age almost-86 does seem a little unlikely :-) Is this a punishment? A disaster? What is the reward for work? What is the payout? Is it just so many years' salary, and a thank-you at the end? Is the work done itself its own payout. The reward for work is rest. One must be cautious in making analogies between the life of God and the life of men. This is, of course, true without limit in the fact that God is infinite, whilst man is finite. The edge is given to this from man's sinfulness. Nonetheless, this is the pattern. "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth..." And so we are told of God's 6 days of labour. And on the seventh day God rested, from all His labour and work that He had done. There are rests now - 'breathers,' 're-creations' that we take in order to be able to work better. But "there remains yet a Sabbath rest for the people of God." That is the reward of our labour. As our work now, under the mark of sin, is painful, is hard for us to do, has to fight against thorns and thistles and obstacles, is true. Our rest from all our earthly labours is also marked by sin - and by the Cross. We must grow old. We become weak, ill, finally die. Nonetheless, the work we have been given to do - not only our paid employment, but our families, our friends, the labour we go through in order to raise our souls to God in prayer - all of it is God's gift. We will not earn our reward as a matter of right. The reward is the reward given to the 'good and faithful servant' to whom - God grant it! - is given the encomium 'well done.' But it is a reward, all the same. So we work and strive, especially, to overcome, not only thorns and thistles, but the sin that so easily slows us down - that we may arrive at the end, the rest, the Sabbath of God. Our work is not in vain in the Lord.