Work Defined by Sabbath
We often use our work as the mirror for our identity. We look at what we produce, at what we're able to achieve, and what comes as the fruit of labor and we expect to see who we really are. It is there that we look to find ourselves. And whether explicitly or implicitly, when we cannot be ourselves without our work, what we reflect is an image of a very busy god—a working god who knows no Sabbath, who cannot be god without god's work. And we reflect a corrupt and oppressive theology of work—one which cannot conceive of human value outside of work, one which sees the unemployed as sub-human, one which cannot conceive of rest until all the work is finished, one which scrutinizes the poor more harshly than the rich and ascribes compassion only to those who merit it according to their value as workers who can earn compassion.
Jurgen Moltmann has written,
Work is... meaningful not because it alone provides the meaning of life, but precisely because it is limited by the goal of rest and joy in existence. The Sabbath does not simply interrupt work. Rather, work is understood and defined through the Sabbath. ("The right to Meaningful Work" in On Human Dignity, p.41)But if rest, celebration, and ceasing—the things of Sabbath—define our work, then our work cannot define us. We must order our loves and look upon our rest, our ceasing, as the mirror of our identity. Our work is in the service of our "joy in existence" and not the other way around. We are who we are, even without our work, because God is who God is even without God's work. We are created in the image of a God who rests without ceasing to be God. And so when we work, it is not to define ourselves but to respond to our having been defined by God. We are called to actively participate in the work of God. And when we actively participate in the work of God, our work is conditioned by the fact that we are not merely workers but people, and the value of our work is found even beyond its success or failure. Work does not define, but it does affirm our being when in it we find the self-emptying work of God, work which does not depend on the desirability of its object or the efficiency of its completion but only on the goodness of God and the joy of living with God's creation.
The mirror of our being, the place we look to discover who we are, is the God who is God even on the Sabbath.