‘A Christmas Carol’ is perhaps the most well-known of
Charles Dickens’ novels (the Muppets’ version is my
personal favourite). Ebenezer Scrooge is a mean
businessman who despises anything joyful. The story
isn’t primarily about work, but it does help us think
about good and bad views of work (and rest and
play). We instantly feel that Scrooge’s focus on a
soulless drive for profit, with no respect for his
employees, is a wonky view of work. Just as quickly,
we warm to his transformation into a generous
benefactor at the end.
But why do we feel this way? Humanly speaking
there is no right or wrong way to work. Without an
appeal to something beyond us we have no basis for
telling the cold-hearted business person that they are
wrong to think the way they do. Whilst I was working
in a large UK bank, one senior executive said to me
that he didn’t much care how money was made (e.g.
from arms deals to whoever!). Protests from other
bankers bounced off him like a modern-day Scrooge,
because as an atheist he did not have to care.
But the good news is that our working lives (as well as
our resting and playing lives) do have intrinsic
meaning. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 show us a garden
that needs to be tended and animals that need
naming. This is good; work is good. Anyone that has
experienced significant times of un- or under-
employment will know this, but equally anyone that
has worked at anything that has given them a real
sense of satisfaction will also attest to it.
But that good work has been twisted by our rejection
of our creator God. Genesis 3 is an account of us
telling God that we think we know better in
all things, including how we work. Scrooges are
evidence of this twisted view of work (sacrificing
things including people for their work) – though
equally, the person that never works isn’t any better.
Just because someone smiles and says: ‘don’t worry,
be happy’ doesn’t mean that they have a better view
of work than Scrooge – they’ve just undercooked it
the other way.
Keep in mind also that when Jesus returns, he will
renew this world; not in a way that will erase who we
are or what we have done, but in a way that redeems
everything, including our work. Christians won’t be
anonymous angelic figures floating on clouds; we’ll
be us, individually recognizable people in a physical
world. We and our world will bear the marks of our
work as well as our leisure. On one level or another
not the least stroke of your pen, the least strike of your
hammer or the least stitch of your needle, will be lost.
Gloriously transformed (thank God!) but not lost.
That’s not something even the new Scrooge