This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
I wanted to ask you a question as someone who is simply curious about Christianity.
Can you explain what I consider to be the two "W"s of life under your God. These are work and worship.
Life is tough. This is something that probably everyone other than the most fortunate, lucky, and wealthy individuals on the planet would agree with. For the vast and overwhelming majority of humans, life is mostly a grind - with occasional periods of rest and relaxation.
When I imagine an ideal God, I think of one who would be happy, cheerful, loving, and one who would have designed our world and our life to revolve around enjoyment, exploration, fun, relaxation, and a chance enjoy each other as human beings. Yet, as I understand the Bible and Christian life, it is mostly just work (with believers talking about "serving" God, almost as slaves to a master) and "worship" (which seems to me a somewhat creepy concept).
First, when it comes to work, I don't understand why it is practically the center of all life. We barely have time each day to enjoy the basics of life, tend to our relationships (with friends, siblings, children, etc.), or even our own health. We have to work to survive. Yet, why would an all-powerful and awesome God design the world this way? Life is sometimes a miserable grind at its worst. It's just filled with work. And the God of the Bible is described as having worked six out of seven days, before finally taking a day off!!
I have actually heard you say in debates of yours that if there were no suffering - which we could include work under - then humans would just turn into spoiled little brats. And so suffering or work can serve a greater good in making people responsible. I suppose I take issue with this, because while I understand that responsibility is a good thing, the degree to which life is filled with drab and mundane work on a constant daily basis seems disproportionate to any good it might produce. Most people can learn to be thankful and responsible without having to work 75-85% of their existence. But, additionally, I have also noticed that many who do work the hardest and longest in society can often do so out of pride and competition, as their way of validating their self worth (probably because they have no social life), or greed.
And then there is worship. This is something I have a hard time understanding as well. Does a supreme being like God really need to command or even enjoy a group of its "followers" singing songs to him once a week on Sunday and chanting "praise God"s to him? I hope you are not offended, but this honestly sounds creepy to me, because it makes it seem as if to be a Christian is to ultimately be a slave in a way. You are forced to work and then even "worship" this superior being. Does the idea that you are forced to worship God not bother you or even sound creepy at all, Dr. Craig?
I do hope you do not take offense to my questions, but these are genuine feelings I have when looking at Christianity and life in general from the outside. Life is difficult as it is and the work and worship aspects of it under Christianity make it seem more of the same. I don't see how the Christian life is supposedly somehow so much greater. Thanks in advance for your time and consideration of my question.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Thank you so much for your interesting and thought-provoking question, Lawrence! It brings home how differently Christians and non-Christians regard certain aspects of our lives. Let’s talk about work and worship.
1. Why is work practically the center of all life? You are quite right in reminding us that we as Christians need to develop a theology of work. In particular, you’re right in pointing to God in the creation narratives as an example of one who works before taking a day off as instructive. This is clearly meant to provide a model for our own lives. I find it fascinating that in the creation story Adam is given work to do by God wholly before Adam’s fall into sin: “And the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2.15). Work is a sacred activity that characterizes even a sinless existence.
The way in which you characterize ideal existence, by contrast, however understandable, is a hedonistic view of life quite contrary to the biblical view. A world which “revolve[d] around enjoyment, exploration, fun, relaxation, and a chance enjoy each other as human beings” sounds like a teenager’s dream, but in fact it would be a nightmare. Such a world revolving around pleasure is a self-centered view of life that is antithetical to responsibility, sacrifice, achievement, and growth in moral virtue. Mature moral agents would never evolve in such a world. Work is thus a great boon to human development, both individually and corporately. Now, of course, as you point out, the virtues achieved through work are not automatic. “Many who do work the hardest and longest in society can often do so out of pride and competition, as their way of validating their self worth (probably because they have no social life), or greed.” But that is not due to any deficit inherent in work itself; it is due to human sinfulness, which can pervert even great goods. A Christian theology of work will also involve the proper motivation for work, such as serving the Lord with gladness and providing for one’s family. A Christian theology of work will probably also involve the notion of calling, the idea that God has called me to be a plumber or a professor or a homemaker or a farmer. When I see my work, however mundane, as a calling from God which I can do for Him, that helps one to have the proper motivation, especially when we serve Him out of a grateful heart for all the good that He has bestowed upon us in Christ.
The mention of human sinfulness serves to remind us, however, that we live in a fallen world in which work becomes much more difficult. Again, in the creation story we find that after the fall God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. . . . In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (Genesis 3.17, 19). In a sinful, fallen world work is often corrupted by exploitative labor practices, poor wages, corruption, domination, and discrimination. Thus, it is hardly surprising that “the degree to which life is filled with drab and mundane work on a constant daily basis seems disproportionate to any good it might produce.” Or at least to any earthly good it might produce (though, given our limited perspective, we really have no idea of the future goods that our labor might produce!)! As we discharge faithfully our duty to provide for ourselves and our family and to do the work that God has called us to do, we do so knowing that this earthly life is but a brief and transitory existence which prepares us for the afterlife, in which God abundantly rewards those who have faithfully served Him. To Christian slaves in Colossae, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; for you serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3.23-4). The problem, Lawrence, is that you are thinking of this terrestrial life as all the life that we have. But according to the Christian faith that is not true. Now I fully appreciate that as a non-Christian this may sound like pie-in-the-sky to you; but the point is that if Christianity is the truth, then this is a reasonable perspective on work in a fallen world. It needs only be added that we have good grounds in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection for our hope.
2. Forced to worship? I couldn't help but smile when I read your second question, Lawrence, because it again so vividly illustrates the different way in which Christians and non-Christians see things! Would you believe that I love to worship God? It’s true! After coming to know God and His salvation as a teenager, I found it tremendously fulfilling and exhilarating to sing praises to the Lord and to pray to Him in corporate worship. I love Him! He is my Savior, who gave his life on the cross for me, undeserving as I am, to forgive my sins, to restore me to a right relationship with Him, and to give me eternal life! How could I not praise Him? Forced to worship God? Never! It is my joy to worship as well as serve Him.
Moreover a little theological reflection reveals that He is the summum bonum, the highest good, the paradigm and source of all value and love. He is, as St. Anselm taught, the greatest conceivable being. So He merits worship and adoration. I suspect that your problem, Lawrence, is that you’re thinking of God, in the words of one British journalist, as “a sort of a chap,” and it would, indeed, be creepy if there were some chap requiring us to worship him! But there is nothing strange or unsuitable in worshiping the greatest conceivable being, the Highest Good.
I'm not at all offended by your questions, Lawrence; on the contrary I found them precious because they are such a vivid reminder of how differently the believer sees God than the unbeliever. What makes Christianity great is, first and foremost, that it is the truth. But besides that, it gives to your work, even when it is burdensome, an eternal meaning and value, and connects you to an incommensurable good, the knowledge of God Himself.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org