The first weekend of September, also known as the Labor Day weekend is the time when the nation celebrates the ‘symbolic’ ending of summer. In the ‘olden days’ when the rage of wearing white during the summertime was fashionable, Labor Day was the reminder to put the bright summery clothing back into storage. Or at least, that was the unwritten rule. How far has the meaning of the day fallen into nothing more than a long weekend or some silly fashion rule. Quite a shame, but predictable, for the trend had been going on for some time now.
What has also been in decline for years is the Judeo-Christian principles which anchored civilization throughout centuries. Without a nexus between civil and religious life, traditions and precedents have little meaning, and the morphing of such holidays is inevitable. Since labor is a huge part of the human experience, it seems wise a person should have at least a rudimentary understanding of the significance of his/her labor. The first book of the bible, the Book of Genesis, gives an insight into human labor and the true meaning of work.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, even before sin entered the world, our first parents were created with the capacity along with God’s mandate to actively engage the world around him and to subdue it (Gen. 1:28). The engagement of our first parents and subsequent generations was to act in a definitive way by using the raw materials of the earth and changing them into something beneficial to the person and the larger group. Work therefore is an integral expression of a human being from the beginning of time, shaping families, societies and the world.
God does nothing randomly and did not command humanity to subdue the earth just to have them do something or to keep busy. He commanded them to work so the creature could share in the life of God more closely.
Clearly, from the very depths of our existence, human beings mimic the creative process of God by which God shares his life by bestowing on the world all that is good. By instructing humanity to subdue the earth, God wishes human beings through their own creative process, to bring some good to the world also. Part of what it means to be a human being is to fashion the material world for their own good and the good of others, and to use our minds to unlock the secrets of nature for the benefit of all creation. It is a responsibility which cannot be ceded to another, for every person has his/her work to accomplish, or his purpose in life.
When sin became a part of the human experience, it did obscure the creative expression by transforming human labor as “toil”. Unfortunately, many still understand work as nothing more than drudgery, with little value except for making a living and surviving. The creative expression is squashed in their minds and all that remains is the negative aspect of work. Although in a sinful world, work does have a dimension of toil associated with it, the creative process of human work has not been completely obliterated by sin. Just as nature was harmed by original sin and not destroyed, work has been affected by the Fall but not completely.
The creative process of work which is downplayed in a modern world in lieu of making money or for some other reason is not well known, because the will of God is no longer known very well either. God’s work, his creation, is a life-giving event because out of nothing, the universe and humanity were born. Similarly, human work is inherently a creative process because it takes something simple and makes it more complex. Work also is creative because it turns chaos into order. The simple cleaning of one’s house turns the messy into something better, a clean and orderly house. Taking care of animals is also a life-giving activity even though one needs to work at it. The same holds to true to more complex and professional working experiences.
For those who work in hospitals, those health care workers come together for the common good of society by making healing available to those who need it. What can be more life-giving than trying to make people healthy again. Without hospitals and those who work in them, many people would suffer immensely.
The same holds true for many other work environments like education, government, agriculture, law and manufacturing. Even those who work in the most menial jobs of society have a responsibility to add to the common good by doing their part for their families which in turn helps and sustains society. From this perspective, human work is elevated from a punishment to a creative activity which brings life and fulfillment not only to yourself, but more importantly, to others.
Happy Labor Day.