The Curse of Work

AFTER READING your articles on play and work ("Why Play?," by Jim Rice, and "Why Work?," by Julie Polter), I continue to be amazed that no one I have read recently, from the pope on down to Julie Polter, has alluded to what Jacques Ellul referred to as the fundamental curse of work. This is not just "bad" or oppressive work, work that doesn’t pay a living wage, or work that is physically or mentally exhausting. By its very nature, all work is cursed. Work is the direct result of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Work is of the order of necessity. If we don’t work, ultimately we die.

Anything we do that is play, that is "non-work," on the other hand, is gratuitous by its nature, whether it be art, worship, or physical or mental recreation. Its prototype is God’s creation of the world, accomplished (fortunately!) before the Fall. The mere fact that sometimes we can "marry" work and creative activity doesn’t alter the essential stigma of work, however beneficial. The concert violinist still has to play concerts or record CDs in order to earn his daily bread.

Jesus himself, in order to save us, had to "work" to that end. His ultimate work, of course, is the cross. Jesus assumed our curse of work, as he assumed the whole curse of the Fall in order to save us. Because of Jesus we live in the time of our redemption by the light of the resurrection. But we live in this freedom by faith. The light of the resurrection is largely hidden to our natural eyes and its victory over death is not readily apparent!

So we "work" in order to share in the saving work of Jesus. We do this for love of our Lord and our brothers and sisters, but we all long for that time, that kairos, when God will be all in all.

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"The Curse of Work"
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