“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” -John 5:17
As the faith-work movement continues to grow across modern evangelicalism, many Christians are gaining renewed perspectives on the meaning and dignity of daily work. Yet even as we begin to understand God’s plan and purpose for our work, many of us still assume that this is where God’s role ends.
But God doesn’t just infuse our work with meaning and then sit back on his throne to observe. He goes along with us — co-creating and co-laboring in constant and continuous partnership. Indeed, we work and create because we were made in the image of a Worker and a Creator.
As Peter Leithart reminds us, God’s creative activity didn’t stop after Genesis:
Yahweh is at work before human beings are created, and throughout Scripture. Before He is at rest, before He is enthroned, before He is a warrior, He is portrayed as a laborer. Making Adam, Yahweh is a potter working His clay. Before Adam tills, Yahweh plants.
As “Shepherd,” Yahweh cares for a flock (Psalm 23), as does Jesus (John 10). He plants a vine, cares for it, and builds a wall around it (Psalm 80; Isaiah 5). Proverbs 8 pictures Yahweh as an architect measuring and building the cosmic house, with Wisdom beside him as a “craftsman” (‘amon). Abraham looks for a city whose “builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11).
Jesus is a carpenter who builds His house-church in the power of the Creator Spirit (the Spirit of Bezalel). When Paul isn’t making tents he’s working as an apostolic “co-laborer” with God (1 Corinthians 3:9).
When create and trade and exchange with others, we are also stepping into new levels of divine partnership, co-laboring and co-creating with the one who started it all. We work with God to serve others, and work with others to serve God. Once we recognize this reality and its reach into each and every corner of our lives, we see realize the importance of opening our hearts and hands across our economic relationships and activities.
As Gene Veith writes in Working for Our Neighbor, Acton’s Lutheran primer on faith and economics, God works in countless ways, but “God’s normal way of working in the world is through means.”
He does not have to use means, and he is capable of working immediately. He can heal with a miracle, just as he once provided the children of Israel their daily bread—the manna of the wilderness—without farmers and bakers. But God’s normal way of operating is through human beings. This is because he desires us to serve one another.
According to Luther, vocation is a “mask of God” (Commentary on Psalm 147, LW 14:114). God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid, said Luther. He is hidden in vocation. We see the milkmaid or the farmer or the doctor or the pas-tor or the artist. But, looming behind this human mask, God is genuinely present and active in what they do for us.
And similarly, as we carry out our various vocations, we too are masks of God. Evangelicals often talk about what God is doing in their lives. Vocation encourages reflection on what God is doing through our lives. Just as God is working through the vocation of others to bless us, he is working through us to bless others. In our vocations, we work side by side with God, as it were, taking part in his ceaseless creative activity and laboring with him as he providentially cares for his creation.
As we participate in the economic order, we ought to move forward with the confidence that comes from all this, actively listening and discerning God’s voice and plan and purpose in all that we do.
When we work, we are not just taking part in “meaningful activity” with our neighbors. We are not just contributing to the common good. We are co-creating and co-laboring with the most high God, bringing a peace, creativity, and abundance that transforms all else.