Sunday, February 8, 2015

Blessed Are The Laborers?

...And in this moment I am happy.

- Incubus, "Wish You Were Here," Morning View (Epic Records, 2001).

In his book Gross National Happiness,[1] economist Arthur Brooks reports--based on data from the General Social Survey--that one of the key elements for achieving happiness and self-fulfillment is work. This is due to its connection to what Brooks calls earned success: the ability to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Perhaps there is a reason that the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is part of the prophetic eschatological hope (Isa. 2:4; Joel 3:10; Micah 4:3). "The point of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks," writes New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, "is so that the weapons of war may be turned into tools of work. When Isaiah [and other OT prophets] envisages the final or eschatological state of affairs, his vision of shalom, well-being, peace, is not of a workless paradise, but of a world at peace worshiping the one true God and working together rather than warring with each other."[2] Jesus taught, "Blessed (Gk makarios) are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). As I've explained elsewhere, the Jewish understanding of peace (Heb shalom) is not limited to a lack of war or strife, but instead points toward wholeness and a state of overall well-being. Furthermore, the Greek makarios was a word ascribed to the gods, who were free from the frailties and misfortunes of human life.[3] In essence, makarios was the divine life. The Septuagint often used this to translate the Hebrew asre, meaning "Oh the happiness of the one" and describing those with divine approval due to proper religious behaviors or attitudes. Unfortunately, this experiential understanding of the word is lost in the English "blessed." As one pair of biblical scholars explains, "Consequently, we often interpret [Matt. 5:9] to mean, "If you are a peacemaker, then God will bless you." But this isn't what Jesus meant. Jesus meant, "if you are a peacemaker, then you are in your happy place." It just doesn't work well in English."[4] This is because "happy sounds trite..."[5]

Perhaps work is integral to the divine life (makarios) and eschatological peace (shalom).


1. Brooks, Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It (New York: Basic Books, 2008), Ch. 7 "Happiness is a Full-Time Job."  

2. Ben Witherington III, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), xiii-xiv (italics mine).

3. It was also used to the describe the dead, the rich, and the wise. See D.E. Garland, "Blessings and Woes," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 78-79.

4. E. Randolph Richards, Brandon J. O'Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 75.

5. Ibid.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wellbeing: The Dignity of Work

Every day I've tried to salvage some of my pride,
To find some work so's I might pay my way
But everywhere I go, the answer is always no,
There's no work for anyone here today,
No work today.
...For as long as I live, I never will forgive,
You've stripped me of my dignity and pride
You've stripped me bare.

- Christy Moore, "Ordinary Man," Ordinary Man (Walker Music UK Ltd, 1985).*

In the Gallup-published Wellbeing, I came across an interesting and important piece of information regarding work and well-being. The authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter explore five essential elements to overall well-being:
  • Career Wellbeing - how one's time is occupied.
  • Social Wellbeing - the strength of one's relationships.
  • Financial Wellbeing - effectively managing one's economic life.
  • Physical Wellbeing - having good health and enough energy on a daily basis.
  • Community Wellbeing - engagement with the area in which one lives.

In regards to Career Wellbeing, Rath and Harter reveal this significant point about the need to work:

The Impact on WellbeingOne of the more encouraging findings [of one study] was that, even in the face of some of life's most tragic events like the death of a spouse, after a few years, people do recover to the same level of wellbeing they had before their spouse passed away. But this was not the case for those who were unemployed for a prolonged period of time -- particularly not for men. Our wellbeing actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemploymentThis doesn't mean that getting fired will harm your wellbeing forever. The same study also found that being laid off from a job in the last year did not result in any significant long-term changes. The key is to avoid sustained periods of unemployment (more than a year) when you are actively looking for a job but unable to find one. In addition to the obvious loss of income from prolonged unemployment, the lack of regular social contact and the daily boredom might be even more detrimental to your wellbeing.[1]

The authors connect our career--what we do day in and day out--to our identity, making one's work "arguably the most essential of the five elements."[2] Human flourishing and dignity are connected to one's work in this life. I imagine it will continue in the next.

This information will certainly find its way into my upcoming paper at the Faith & Knowledge Conference.

*Thanks to Allen Hansen for showing me this song.


1. Tom Rath, Jim Harter, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (New York: Gallup Press, 2010), 17-18.

2. Ibid., 16.

Jonathan Haidt on Dynamism With Decency

Over at, social psychologist and the current Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU-Stern Jonathan Haidt has an great post discussing capitalism and the role business plays and can play in creating an ethical environment. He writes,

Credit: Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human FlourishingWhen I tell people I teach business ethics, they often ask: “isn’t that an oxymoron?” Their response is not unwarranted. Much of my course is about the clever ways businesses have found to exploit their workers, sidestep regulations, and foist external costs onto others. Businesspeople are brilliant at finding opportunities and some of those opportunities are exploitative. Yet the great majority of businesses (in developed nations with low corruption) run quite ethically and survive only because they provide a good or service that makes other people’s lives better. When you take the big picture and see those hockey-stick graphs of rising prosperity in the West since 1800, and in Asia since 1980, I think you’ve got to start with the proposition that business is fundamentally good. Creating value for other people (and keeping some for yourself) is virtuous. When people are free to create value, it unleashes the tidal wave of human dynamism. Poverty plummets. When people are not free, you get torpor, North Korea, and Cuba.

In the cultural struggle between the exploitation and liberation view of capitalism, Haidt sides more so with the liberation outlook (as do I). However, he recognizes that the innovations brought about by capitalism also unleashes innovative ways to exploit. He hopes to encourage "non-governmental actors [to] find ways to raise the cost of bad behavior" and "help businesses maximize both dynamism and decency." 

Though I have some major reservations about it,[1] many of the concepts in liberation theology resonate with me.[2] Haidt's talk of liberation and ethics is an excellent example of the kind of framework I'm attempting with a Mormon theology of work.


1. For example, take the liberation interpretation of the Exodus: "One particularly important contemporary misapplication of the Exodus story is liberation theology...The basic thrust behind liberation theology is to see in the Exodus an essentially sociopolitical event that can then be transposed to any situation where one people is oppressed by another...This is not an atypical sentiment in liberation circles, but it is...a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of Israel's deliverance from Egypt. Israel's liberation from Egypt was a religious statement. God was claiming his right over Israel, to take his people out from under Pharaoh's rule and put them under his own rule. Exodus is not the story of Israel's release from Egypt, as if they now can go their merry way and build a Marxist-like utopia. Rather, they have left one form of slavery in order that they may be free to enter another form of slavery to Yahweh. It is a journey that does not merely take them out of Egypt, but to Mount Sinai and the law. Liberation theologians' use of the Exodus to support a wholly unshackled political freedom runs contrary to the story they are attempting to appropriate. The Exodus is not a story of liberation in the sense in which many use it today, but a story of salvation...It is...the foundational event in Israel's existence as a people before God" (Peter Enns, Exodus: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, 291-292).

2. My main exposure is The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).