A number of years ago, I spent a few months working for a temporary employment agency. One of my first assignments was answering the phones for a beverage distribution company. They provided beverages to retail outlets and others who needed large quantities of beverages such as soft drinks, fruit juices, and . . . beer. My first Friday on this assignment, I took orders for an astounding number of kegs of beer. This aspect of the job made me extremely uncomfortable. Was I facilitating drunken orgies? What if someone at an event for which I’d taken the beer order drank too much, and was killed or killed someone else while driving home drunk? I wrestled through these questions, but before I arrived at a solution, the job was over.
At one time or another, most of us have encountered situations at work that, for one reason or another, are troublesome and don’t seem to have a clear resolution. Discerning the right thing to do seems complicated, with each possibility appearing to have an equal number of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the issue at stake is more on the level of personal business ethics, as is the case in the story above. Sometimes the issue is one that is on a broader level and affects the business as a whole. For example, what does a business do when there is a tension between paying a higher wage or providing better benefits, and charging prices that will allow the business to remain competitive? Where is the line between marketing that allows the consumer to make a more informed decision and marketing that manipulates consumers into buying products they don’t want or need?
Such tensions arise out of the fact that the world of work has been affected by the fall. In their book Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae point out that work is not a result of the presence of sin in the world (p. 47). Genesis 2:15 tells us that the Lord put man in the garden of Eden to work the garden and to keep it. Thus, rewarding and significant work was a part of God’s original intention for his creation. As noted in Genesis 3:17-19, however, sin has had an effect on work, making it, according to Wong and Rae, “fraught with numerous and varied possibilities for wrongdoing,” as well as “arduous and stressful” (p. 54). As a result, we encounter numerous conflicts and frustrations in the world of work.
The central thesis of Wong and Rae’s book is that business “is a calling to serve the common good through transformational service” (p. 33). In their book, Wong and Rae discuss issues such as biblical teachings on wealth, ambition, and success; how to engage with a global economy using an approach that takes advantage of globalization’s opportunities in a positive way; ethical challenges in business; biblical qualities of a leader; proper use of marketing techniques; the environment and sustainability; and how businesses can be intentional about working to solve social problems. In each case they note that the issue can be dealt with in a way that does serve the common good through transformational service. However, they also acknowledge that there are potential dangers in this attempt. For example, the creation of wealth can help alleviate poverty, yet also has the potential to foment greed and the abuse of power.
At times, then, “a choice may have to be made between less-than-ideal alternatives.” Wong and Rae give as an example the case of “so called green products [producing] a different set of harms (e.g., fuel efficient cars like the Prius may encourage more driving)” (p. 244). This situation is a reminder of the fact that with our limited knowledge, we as human beings do not have the ability to foresee the extent of the consequences and ramifications of our decisions in our work life—or in any other part of our life. We are not omniscient. But God is. He is ready and willing to give us guidance, wisdom, and discernment. Yet, we must choose to seek his will and trust his guidance. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are given the wisdom of God and the power to follow that wisdom (1 Corinthians 2).
The tensions and conundrums that often arise from working in the business world point out our need for the counsel of God as we make decisions that may have far-reaching consequences. Thus, God can use these tensions to draw us to himself. Wong and Rae point out that not only can we positively impact the work environment by living out our faith, but God can also use our work environment to shape and form us, deepening our walk with him (pp. 95-100). God can employ our presence in the business world to better the lives of others in numerous ways and accomplish his purposes in the world. The possibilities are endless. For example, as we treat those who work for or with us with dignity and respect, we inspire in them confidence in their abilities and help them grow toward reaching their full potential. At the same time, he can use our presence in the world of work to form and mold us into people who reflect his image more clearly. Working through issues such as business failures, being laid off, or ethical dilemmas can drive us to our knees, seeking wisdom and guidance from God.
The next time you are faced with a dilemma at work—maybe discerning whether or not selling kegs of beer serves or hinders the common good—consider it an opportunity to seek God and gain a more intimate knowledge of him. Trust God for the wisdom and guidance only he can provide. And be aware that his leading may result in what appears to be merely the lesser of two evils. But he is a God who makes the crooked places straight and reveals the treasures of darkness (Isaiah 45:3). His ways are infinitely higher than ours and his word and counsel always accomplish what he desires (Isaiah 55:8-11). Our hope for business for the common good ultimately must rest in God.