Is Work A Privilege Or An Obligation? Could The Answer Be, “Both?”

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Mine was a simple Google inquiry earlier this morning related to Labor Day. In the process, I didn’t expect to find the tit-for-tat historic evidence of perceived police brutality followed by a labor demonstration and bombing in 1886. The violence took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago on Tuesday, May 4, 1886.

Reportedly, the labor demonstration began as a peaceful rally of striking workers hoping to limit the workday to an eight-hour day. It was also a show of disdain in reaction to the killing of several workers by police the previous day.

What started as a peaceful demonstration at Haymarket Square has been memorialized for more than a century as the “Haymarket massacre”. It proved not to be a peaceful demonstration. Perhaps in some respects “peaceful demonstration” is an oxymoron. The one in Chicago on May 4, 1886 left eleven people dead and scores of others wounded.

It was never determined who actually threw the homemade dynamite bomb at police as they attempted to disperse the public gathering. The bomb blast and ensuring gunfire culminated in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians. Scores of others were wounded.

The wheels of justice moved quickly. Seven defendants (one of whom may have built the bomb) received a death sentence. One other person received a fifteen-year prison sentence. Illinois Governor Richard Oglesby subsequently commuted the death sentence of two to life sentences. Another sentenced to death opted for suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887.

Today labor conditions are governed by a myriad of legislation designed to promote safety, equity and fairness for workers. Yet, one of the major stress factors that many experience relates to their work. In his book “Cure For The Common Life”, Max Lucado makes the observation that, “One-third of Americans say, ‘I hate my job’. Two thirds of your fellow citizens labor in the wrong career track. Others find employment success, but no satisfaction. Most suicides occur on Sunday nights. Most heart attacks occur on Monday mornings”.

My question for you this morning is simply this, “Is work a blessing or a curse?” On Friday I noticed a man standing on the street corner holding a sign. It read, “Anything helps”. I would anticipate that he’d fall on the side of saying, “blessing”. Yet, not everyone agrees.

Bob Black wrote an essay in 1985 entitled “The Abolition of Work”. The essay begins, “No one should ever work. Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.”

I am of the mindset that work is both a privilege and an obligation. The origin of work is described in detail in the book of Genesis. Interestingly God is the primary player. For six consecutive days God was busy with the creation of the world. On the seventh day He rested.

In the process, He reflected on the outcome of his labor. He called it “very good”. Isn’t there something intrinsically rewarding about looking at the investment of our labor and finding it purposeful and productive?   One writer expresses it this way, “God examined and assessed the quality of His work, and when He determined that He had done a good job, he took pleasure in the outcome. By this example, it is apparent that work should be productive. Work should be conducted in a way that produces the highest quality outcome. The reward for work is honor and satisfaction that comes from a job well done”.

Have you ever stopped to wonder, “What God does all day?” Following creation, God did not go into retirement. The psalmist is quite clear that God continues to support His creation. He describes him as a God who “does not slumber or sleep”. In Psalm 104, he states:

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;…

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;

The earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,

And plants for people to use…

O Lord, how manifold are your works!”

Psalm 104

We, too, have a purpose. We are most like God when we use the God given interests, abilities and skills we’ve been provided in some type of meaningful productivity. Didn’t Jesus echo that principal when he talked about bad trees producing bad fruit and good trees producing good fruit?

Work is both a privilege and an obligation.

All My Best!

Don

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