Today I had Oliver O'Donovan's latest book, Entering Into Rest, turn up on my doorstep.
Eagerly flicking through the index I discovered he'd given extended consideration to the significance of human work.
O'Donovan gives particular attention to challenging the view that only "enduring work" can be considered good. The select quotes below are from p112-114.
O'Donovan sets the scene for the discussion by recounting the way in which both Teilhard and Volf have framed their theology of human work:
" 'With each one of our works we labour,' Teilhard wrote, 'to build the pleroma; that is to say, we bring to Christ a little fulfilment.' (1).... Miroslav Volf, in what was perhaps the last echo of the mid-century tradition, put the same challenge more bluntly. Only 'cumulative work,' he insisted, could 'have intrinsic value and gain ultimate significance.' (2) "
O'Donovan evocatively draws out the implications of this perspective on human work:
...we might be tempted to conclude that our work would be effective in proportion to the durability of its products. Making the terracotta army would be better than making gingerbread men for the children's party, planting a tree better than cleaning a room, manufacturing the plastic bags that hang around forever caught in the branches of trees better than making biodegradable ones.
However O'Donovan warns that.....
"...we should hesitate before reaching such a conclusion, not only from a scruple about ephemeral work, but because we know the deeds valued most have often been those whose future effects the actor could know nothing about - such as the hours spent wrestling with a piece of writing no publisher may ever touch."
O'Donovan goes on to conclude....
"So we must not allow ourselves to be forked on the suppositious alternative of a work that is precious because permanent, and a work that is worthless because its effects are impermanent. Work is made precious as impermanent, since God has taken time and its works to himself, restoring them through and from their passing away, not "cumulatively" as a process, but by an act that bears testimony to himself as creator and redeemer, which is resurrection."
1. Teilhard, Le Milieu Divin, pp. 54, 56.
2. Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2ooi pp. 9o-91.
Buy Entering Into Rest - it looks fascinating! In the section following that outlined above, O'Donovan goes on to address the difference between work and leisure, and work and self-realisation.