Some Theological Principles about Honest and Decent Work

A summary of a reflection given by the Rev. Dr. Giacomo Cassese's at an Annual Meeting of SFIWJ
  • For work to be honorable it must always be related to God the Creator and to his creation.
  • The original intention of the Creator when he instituted work was that of preserving and promoting what he created: life.
  • Work must always be considered as a sacred activity because the human being was given what God did in six days.
  • The Hebrew word Avodah means not only work but also worship. God’s plan is that man’s work be an act of communion with and worship to God. Thus, the human being would be in perfect harmony with the immanent (creation) and the transcendent (God). With that double and perfect relationship, the human being would give sense and purpose to his or her existence.It then can be said that work mandated by God to Adam (Gn 1:27) was the first religion, the first form of worship to God, "Prelaxary Religion" (before the Fall). We could also assume that the original intention of work has to create communion as well as community. 
  • According to Genesis, the two main characteristics of work are: 
      • Works is a humanizing event. Through work, the human being was to build a special relationship with his or her Creator that would allow him or her to reach his or her highest potential and integrate his or her existence where there was no division between the holy and profane.
      • The human being assumed the work as a "holistic" or cosmic act during which his or her physical and spiritual dimensions were to be used. 
  • Work is a sacramental event. According to the theology of Genesis, work must be considered as a “means of Grace," that is, a way through which God makes himself present, permeates our reality, and finds us in the midst of that reality. The sacraments serve to build deep and intimate relationships with God that transcend our own limited reality. Frey Bartolomé de las Casas understood this perfectly when he became the defender of the oppressed. In Sirac 34:22 it says, “He slays his neighbor who deprives him of his living. He sheds blood who denies the laborer his wages.” He understands that at the time of the colonial system “Holy Communion” was a macrocosm of an oppressive regime; not only were the American Indians denied the holy communion, but also their salary and the sustenance this action represented.

Conclusion

Decent work is a God-created activity that allows the human being to hold a special relationship with the Creator and his creation. That is to say that the human being is co- creator with God, a responsible partner in taking care of what God has made. As he or she works, the human being promotes and fulfills him or herself, develops his or her divine creativity, becomes humanized, and reaches his or her potential; however, when one works alienated from God’s original intention, he or she is exploited, used and dehumanized.

Work is not only a resource to obtain our material sustenance, but is rather a divine instrument to defend and preserve life. Life only belongs to the Creator, our Lord. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon sums it up like this: “The only pleasure he has in this life is eating and drinking and enjoying himself. He can at least do this as he labors…” Ecclesiastes 8:15.