The Fake Utopia of a Workless World

The Fake Utopia of a Workless World

Solomon presents us with the sum total of human existence—to eat, drink, work hard, and enjoy God. Pretty basic stuff. And don’t miss the last part: “For apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ultimately the good life won’t be realized without an encounter with our Creator. 

Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.
Fyodor Dostoevsky

When God put Adam in the garden, he did a remarkable thing. He set him to work. This fact is even more remarkable when we remember that Eden was already a paradise. There was lots of food (Gen. 2:18), water (Gen. 2:10), and gold (Moses is even careful to mention that the gold was good—no dragon curses here). There were no weeds to pull, no graves to dig, and no swords to sharpen. In one sense, everything was already done.

And yet Adam was told to “cultivate and keep” the garden. He was to work towards its further beautification. He was to be an active agent of dominion; organizing the raw material around him by means of his own creative labour. This tells us something else important: work wasn’t an intrusion. Futility was the intrusion (Gen. 3:19). Work has been God’s idea from the beginning. This fact is reiterated in passages like 2 Thessalonians 6:10–12:

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Paul’s command to the Thesseloninans is a call back to the Genesis mandate. He reminds them that work is the proper sphere in which we occupy the majority of our lives: pouring foundations, changing diapers, hoeing beets, teaching math, and generating spreadsheets. For those who consider work above, beneath, or beyond them, the verdict is clear: let them not eat. If you don’t sow beets in the spring, you shouldn’t expect to eat them with cheese and beer in the fall. In the words of a famous ex-nun, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”

Not only is it reasonable to expect a labouring people to follow in the wake of a labouring God, it is also necessary. It is through investing one’s own labour that each person is able to earn their own living. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” Sweat equity is the original and best kind of equity. Lincoln had it right here:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

The gift of labour also preserves us from the dehumanizing effects of idleness. Idleness—the state of NOT being at work—is fertile ground for sin. Which means we shouldn’t be surprised when diehard welfare states are also riddled with crime. The less people busy at work, the more time they have “to lie on their beds and make evil plans” (Micah 2:1). Through work, the effects of decay and are also kept at bay; roads can be repaired, lawns mowed, homes heated, and taxes kept low.

When only a small core of society is actually engaged in labour, the pool of capital (available wealth) dries up, and new taxes are introduced to replenish it. Which are then immediately sent back out to fund the magical endeavours of the unemployed.

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