A few weeks ago I wrote about purpose; I presented a handful of perspectives on the purpose of our human existence and asked the question, Why should I go to grad school, anyway? Today I want to zoom in on one particular thread that, as you may have noticed, traced prominently through two of the given perspectives. That thread is the glory of God. Now, before I lose you completely with those worn out old words, let me shake them off and give them back their . . . glory.
Irenaeus, a father of the early church, famously said:
The glory of God is the human person fully alive.
That is, when a human being experiences and enjoys the richness of God and his creation, that human being puts God on display—he or she shows to the cosmos the true nature of its creator. Jesus was and is the human being who most clearly displays the creator’s nature. He is the very renown and wisdom and honor of God in human flesh and, when he went to the cross, he displayed God’s mysterious core: justice and self-giving love.
But what about us? How can this possibly relate to work in a science lab or at an editing desk, or, in my case, in a religious studies seminar? Here’s the thing: God has created all of us individually, to act as his representatives, his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) in the world in very real, specific ways. Jesus’s specific vocation was, in complete obedience to the Father, to reveal the self-giving love of God through his life and work and, ultimately, his death on a roman cross, taking onto himself the sins of the world, rising to prove the weakness of death and evil, and sending his Spirit. (I’m sure I’ve left something out here, but you get the idea.)
With Jesus we share the call to selfless obedience to the Father, we share the call to the revelation of the self-sacrificial love of God. But physically dying on a roman cross for the sins of the world is likely not part of your vocation. N. T. Wright said it well in the quote I shared in my last post:
…Every follower of Jesus will have his or her own unique and interestingly different vocation within this complex overall project.
Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, he wants to bring everything into his kingdom—the arts, the sciences and, yes, even the humanities. And in those fields we are not mere instruments that God wields to bring himself power and fame, but he’s taken us up as co-workers, bringing his kingdom of self-giving love into every discipline, every craft, every city, every university. Our vocation is the specific realm—workplace, department, milieu—into which we bring God’s kingdom.
It is not the case, however, that we can remain as we wish, as we are, making ourselves the center of our work. God must be the center. Without the help of our creator we are lost. If we refuse the salvation available—every day!—through Jesus, we remain in a broken state. But God, being our creator, our greatest ally and loving Father, wants to see us thriving, leading flourishing lives full of joy and peace and hope and love. He wants us to work with him, in his love and power, bringing the reconciling, cruciform love (the kind of love modeled on the cross) wherever we work, live, play and study.
Consider my friend Ray. He’s an ecologist, a professor of biology, a named fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the faculty advisor for the Intervarsity chapter at his university. He describes his lab as
a horizontally organized group of postdoctoral, graduate student, and undergraduate collaborators.
In other words, his lab is a mutual community of coworkers, and Ray is constantly in the business of encouragement, honoring his student’s achievements above his own. In the division of biological sciences he considers others as more important than himself, and sees his work as for the Lord. He takes on extra stress in order to reveal the self-sacrificial love of God in his department by working to create harmony and reconciliation among the faculty and students. And people notice. Because of his excellence as a scientist and coworker, when he teaches the occasional class on Christian approaches to science, people listen. He is also on the board of his local church, assisting the pastoral staff in financial decisions and, occasionally, preaching about the priesthood of all believers. He is a dear friend, and has been an incredibly powerful force of God encouraging me in my academics and marriage. Although Ray’s vocation is not death on a roman cross, he denies himself and takes up his cross in his academic career. And he enjoys his work immensely.
Ray is a professor and a biologist. That is his vocation. And, as you can see, he lives out the call to obedience and self-sacrificial love within that specific vocation. You and I are called to that same kind of obedience and love, however they might play out in our specific vocations. Your work, academic or otherwise, relates directly to the revelation of the kingdom of God. Jesus is the Lord of all.
Now, in light of all this, reread these statements of purpose:
Pope Francis I: “This is our definitive, deepest and greatest motivation, the ultimate reason and meaning behind all we do: the glory of the Father which Jesus sought at every moment of his life.”
N. T. Wright: “Royal priests are, in short, to work at revealing the glory of God to the world… [And] we should expect that God’s glory will be reflected out into the world when Jesus’ followers learn the habits of mind, heart, and life that imitate the generous love of Jesus and thus bring new order, beauty, and freedom to the world.”
Matthew 5:14-16: You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Add to the conversation; feel free to comment about your experience, share your stories.