John Stackhouse, in Making the Best of It, talks about "human vocation" and "Christian vocation." Today we are looking at human vocation.
All human beings are called by God to fulfill the creation commandments [Cultural Mandate and Great Commandments], as we have seen. We are to worship God, see each other’s best interests, and care for the rest of creation. … There are no “netural actions (Mt 13:48; Eph. 4:29 NASB). One is either making a contribution toward shalom or one is not. (223)
Stackhouse has already made clear that we will not see perfect shalom until the consummation of the new creation but here he takes aim at complacency … everyone remaining in their “station” and preserving the statas quo while we wait for “pie in the sky by and by.” The world is deeply marred by the fall but substantial movement in the direction of shalom is possible.
Like the seeds of leaven of Jesus’ parables that are diffused and then influence all around them, Christians must quietly, steadily, and sometimes dramatically effect change – as Christians have, whether in the development of constitutional government, the rise o f science, the abolition of slavery, the empowerment of women, the recognition of universal human rights, and more. (224-225)
The challenge is discerning what shalom looks like and having a robust appreciation for how all the particulars of human action contribute the flourishing of creation and shalom. Everyone has a legitimate role to play in moving things in the direction of shalom.
But lest we become fixated on productive labors, Stackhouse reminds us that there are “other generic human activities that deserve Christian affirmation” (226) … sports or art, for example. That some have too highly regarded these activities is no justification for the denigration of them. As Stackhouse notes, “god is interested in more than productivity and spirituality.
Human beings function in groups and Stackhouse lists a couple dozen examples ranging from nation states, to families, to banks, to sports teams. As evidenced by this assortment. human institutions were not established by God merely to restrain evil but they exist as avenues to pursue a flourishing world. Modernity may have contribution to the multiplication of such groups but they have always been with us.
But human institutions consist of fallen human beings. They are not benign.
One of the great useless emphases of our time, to reiterate, is the championing of community over individualism, as if the former is good and the latter bad – indeed, as if the former is a kind of cure for the latter. (228)
Communities do great harm as well. It is time to end the false dichotomy of personal conversion and social change. Both are in need of transformation yet transformation from either angle will not usher in the Kingdom of God.
When it comes to groups, we must become more intentional and precise in how we see them contributing to shalom. Like individuals, groups get lost in their focus and we must be consistently asking how our institutions measure up to the standard of shalom.
Such a question ought to energize and direct a group, neither asking of it an impossible ideal nor releasing it to ethical complacency and thus to either stagnation or rapacity. (229)
Stackhouse also makes this important observation:
Furthermore, a Christian ethic recognizes that governments are not families and governments and families are not business, and business are not charities or families, and so on. It is a mark of ethical confusion in our time … which gives rise to the rueful (and confused) protests that you don’t fire your family members or refuse to help them if they’re in any trouble. Yet it is not only all right for business to fire people but essential that they do so. It is not only all right for businesses to fire people but essential that they do so. It is not only all right for hospitals to put patient care above fiscal efficiency but essential that they do so. … Differentiation, and thus ethical clarity, is essential for the proper functioning of each kind of group. (230)
Human vocation sanctifies our work. It makes it holy and a pleasure to God. However, while we all share this vocation it does not mean that our work will always seem rewarding and fruitful. There is sin in the world and there are oppressive economic forces as work. Stackhouse writes:
Stackhouse also reminds us that none of us can do everything and each of us is limited by abilities and interests when it comes to work. We all like some endeavors and not others. After listing several topics he has no interest in, Stackhouse writes:
A point I would add in addition, is that we should be slow to denigrate fields of study or areas of work that don’t match our proclivities. The work that is done in other fields that we consider silly or less noble may be a source of great pleasure to God and the people he has called to work in those areas. Clearly there is work that does not honor God but I often wonder how closely my boundaries approximate God’s.
The bottom line for Stackhouse whatever it is that we do, it is imperative that persistently ask what will most increase shalom.