By Tyler Lee
At its recent Calling & Career week symposium, Montreat College looked at work and vocation through the lens of the struggle between the now and the not yet, seeking to understand what it is to exist and struggle in a world that has been torn apart by sin. This biennial event offers a chance to focus in on calling and career both theoretically and practically through the lens of the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
On the symposium’s first night, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, senior fellow at Redeemer City to City in New York and director of New City Fellows in Raleigh, discussed how “the first chapter provides the structure for the rest of the story.” Seeing that we were created in the image of God, we can see that our work is supposed to strive for the image of God’s perfection. And even if we can never fully achieve it, we are called to be both the namers of culture and the cultivators.
Alsdorf defined work as “rearranging the raw material of God’s material…so that it allows people in particular to thrive and flourish.” This thriving and flourishing can only be achieved through honesty.
From childhood, humans are taught to live within boxes, and even to work within them. Most people enter the workforce with a false view of work, thinking that work always comes in the form of a 9-5 job. At least there’s the weekend to look forward to…
This is simply not the way work ought to be viewed. Our calling isn’t something that should fit into a specific box; it’s what God calls us specifically to. We have a specific function in God’s great purpose, in His incomprehensible order.
In the second main session of the symposium, Steven Garber, founder and principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, & Culture in Washington, D.C., introduced the hard-hitting reality of the fall of humankind. While we were once called to cultivate the garden, an additional part of our call is because of the fall’s groaning. “We can’t be Romantics about work; creation groans and we groan too,” Garber said. “If there isn’t some aspect of groaning in our work, we won’t last long in it.”
The symposium also offered countless workshops that focused in on specific fields; the best one I attended was about Montreat professor Corrie Greene’s journey to being a literature professor. She spoke of how groaning and crisis are unavoidable parts of the journey. Not only that, but you may find yourself working at Barnes & Noble or a frozen yogurt shop along the way to the job that God has called you to. Yet, even in spite of what seem to be detours, God is shaping and molding you for your calling.
The sweat and tears are a necessary part of our calling; without these times, we wouldn’t get to enjoy the moments of satisfaction. After all, Augustine once said, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
In the third session of the Symposium, Garber posed the question: “Can we know the world and still love the world?” We are working with, for, and to serve other fallen creatures; there’s no doubt our work’s going to be a mess. Yet, Garber believes we can still come to love the world.
“It’s going to be a now and not yet world until we die,” Garber said. This means that even in toil, Christians in the workplace need to maintain a kingdom vision. God has given salvation already; He is returning to reorder our loves and restore His creation to its proper order.
This is the very redemptive message preached by Byron Borger, the owner of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. In the symposium’s fourth main session, Borger preached that the kingdom of God is “multidimensional” meaning God’s work is being done across all creation, in ways our small, finite minds can’t begin to comprehend. Borger also offered perspective on how Christians are called to pursue God’s Kingdom in the work world.
Our first calling is to be a people on our knees in prayer. In Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, the poet describes the life of St. Dominic, saying that his nurse found him “in meditation at night on the bare floor, awake and silent, as if he were saying, ‘This is my vocation.'” Christian workers become so engrossed in their work that they virtually ignore the ways in which they can honor God through that work.
We can never fully grasp God’s work on this Earth; it is multidimensional, existing on infinite redemptive levels. There is one thing, however, that we can begin to understand about Jesus’ saving work—Jesus didn’t just die for just us; He died to save all of creation, the entire cosmos. He also died for us to, as Borger put it, “be the flourishing culture makers who we were called to be all along.” Are we truly living into this call? Is the culture that we’re creating honoring to God?
Our careers are ultimately flawed, but they are given meaning and purpose through our calling. Through beginning to understand our calling, we can begin to create a culture that seeks to honor and glorify God. So no matter what your calling is, let it be shaped by a Kingdom vision, knowing in your heart every day that, despite your groaning, the Kingdom is at hand.