What is good work? Lessons from Scrooge – Gareth Crispin

What is good work? Lessons from Scrooge – Gareth Crispin

‘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