Professor Brian Fleming
Cor 107: The Great Conversation
Why is the work that volunteers carry out at the Lynn Boys and Girls Club worth doing? In doing volunteer work one’s character improves. However, work also has non-subjective value, aka, value that is unrelated to how it affects the individual doing the work. If a volunteer understands the value intrinsic to the work that they are doing, then they will do higher quality work. Work performed by volunteers at the Lynn Boys & Girls Club has intrinsic dignity, even apart from how it affects those doing the work.
God Himself worked. He did so by creating the universe. Moses described this creation as work; “God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (NRSV Genesis 2:3b). God commissioned man to work before the fall. After blessing humankind, “God said to them,’…fill the earth and subdue it” (NRSV Genesis 1:27-28a). According to Genesis 2:15, God willed for man to work, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” God had a task for Adam. God brought creatures to him so that he would name them, “out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal…and every bird…, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (NRSV Genesis 2:19). This is a task that God gave Adam to do, but this was searching for a helper to be his partner more primarily than it was work. This searching to discover something is like research. But research is not searching for a helper, rather searching for new understanding. This also could be like dating, many being brought before a man for him to find a helper. How does this give volunteer work value? God made clothing. Genesis 4:7 states, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Similarly, if we do good work, then our work will yield. After Cain killed Abel, God said that Cain was cursed from the ground, and that when he tilled the ground, it would no longer yield to him.
How does the creation story described in Genesis 1-3 give meaning to work? God did work. Why does God doing work give it value? The way a man spends his time is a reflection of what he values (Gusdorf 223). Thus, the way God spends His time reflects what He values. There must be something about creating humans that He values. What about creating humans does God value? God loves. After creating humans, He can exercise that part of His character to an even greater degree than He could prior by having a loving relationship with us. Work existed before the fall. Why does work existing before the fall give it value? In the perfect world of Eden, there was work, thus, work is not a byproduct of being in a broken world. In a broken world we must ask what activities we were not intended to do, however, from the Christian creation account we learn that work is an activity which we were intended to do.
How did the fall affect work? Because Adam disobeyed God, work no longer always yields. Also, humankind was separated from face-to-face communion with God.
Work receives value when it involves loving others. When work can be seen pushing towards the larger goal of people’s needs being met, then it is work worth doing. Volf defines work as “activity whose primary goal is the creation of products or states of affairs that can satisfy the needs of working individuals[‘]…co-creatures” (10). This is to say that work involves that which provides for the needs of another human or living organism.
How does what Volf says give work value. Doing things that better others in the big picture give work meaning. Also, when someone is doing something that fits within the definition of work, that intrinsically is valuable because it involves providing for the needs of another. What makes providing for another’s needs worthwhile? The fact that their quality of life is improved. What makes improving another’s quality of life worthwhile? What makes loving others worthwhile? God loves others, and thus humans doing the same, reflecting this Godly action is also worthwhile. For what reason does God love? God loves because in His character is the quality of loving others. Why does God love others? It pleases Him and makes life better for all.
How does the volunteer work in Lynn align with what Volf writes? The individual acts may seem insignificant, such as waiting in line with a child to play foosball with them, but they are pushing towards the larger goal of this child feeling loved. In this moment, spending time with the child influences them to become a better person (Volf).
God and man want the world to come to a place of harmony. Plantinga asserts that “[t]he coming of the kingdom of God represents a final state of cosmic redemption, in which God and God’s creatures dwell together in harmony, righteousness, and delight” (Plantinga 25). He goes on to say that humans need rest, and thus there must be some work that helps enable and facilitate this.
How does what volunteers do help work towards restoration of relationships between people in earth? The Boys & Girls club works to providing something essential to human flourishing—recreation. The children need this recreation to experience the fullness of life.
God made humans in His image. God worked, and because humans bear His image, they can reflect His image. If humans want to more fully reflect God’s nature, they should work. Having these reasons for work’s value in mind will help Boys & Girls club volunteers to do better work. Volunteers in Lynn may question the value of their work apart from how it serves their own needs. Ahead lie some points for them to consider. In a Christian worldview, God instituted man to work in the seemingly perfect world of Eden. Work that makes small steps towards a bigger picture of shalom in the world is valuable. Practically, work provides for the needs of others to progress towards shalom. Volunteer work in Lynn provides for those children’s need for care and for good role models. This essay has explored the value of work apart from how it affects the one doing it. A follow up essay should be written on the importance of volunteer Lynn service as it affects the workers. Participants in Lynn service should keep in mind the bigger picture that their little steps progress towards. Understanding this important meaning of their work will motivate them to do better work.
Gusdorf, George. Traite de l’existence morale. Paris: Colin, 1949. Print.
The New Revised Standard Version Bible. Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. 1995. Kershaw, Simon. oremus Bible Browser. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013
Plantinga Jr., Cornelius. “Vocation in the Kingdom of God” Chapter 5 from Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8028-3981-0
Volf, Miroslav. Work in the Spirit. Eugene: Wipf, 2001. Print
Here is the syllabus from the course I wrote this paper for: The Great Conversation: Foundations in Thinking, Reading, and Writing.