"In the beginning, then, God worked.” It’s from this simple platform that pastor and author Tim Keller begins with in Every Good Endeavor, his project of redeeming the goodness of work. It’s a simple platform, but its implications are far-reaching. Keller continues, “Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration" (pp.34-35). Everything flows out this profound reality. Work did not come after the fall; no, humans were given the task of work before there was sin. And, in fact, our work uniquely mirrors back our God's perfect work from eternity.
There are significant implications for this: "If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. "In fact," All work has dignity because it reflects God's image in us, and also because the material creation we are called to care for is good" (51).
Beyond the good of our work, our work also has a profound connection to the redemptive work God is doing in creation and the new heavens and new earth that await. Keller begins his book sharing JRR Tolkien's short story, "Leaf by Niggle" where Niggle, an obsessive artist, only manages to paint a single, beautiful leaf of a tree, but when he meets God in eternity he witnesses the whole tree. Keller returns to this story many times, reminding us that our work is not only good because of that fact that God has made it good and God himself works, but that God actually uses us in his redemptive work of re-creation. And this is not merely work that is isolated to the so called "spiritual" realms, but all work that brings about order and common good.
Keller also deals with the difficulties of our work: when work is fruitless, pointless, selfish, and revelatory of our idols. In this section, in particular, Keller prods his reader to consider what vocation God is truly calling and equipping him or her to. One quibble I had was that a recurring theme of the stories was of Keller's congregants to step out of the financial world and into the world of education or the arts or something else. Keller's analysis of the systemic issues that is funneling "the best and brightest" into the financial industry and away from education and the arts is spot on, but I would have appreciated more from Keller regarding the redemptive aspects of the financial industry.
Keller calls us to work out of a love of and service for our neighbor. The implications of this are different depending on the amount of influence and leverage you have in an organization and industry. Keller reminds us powerfully that "There may be no better way to love your neighbor than to simply do your work. But only skillful, competent work will do." Amen to that vision.