The Sin of Productivity
C.S. Lewis stated in his Introduction to Athanasius's On the Incarnation: "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes." For all the great things American culture may have achieved, there seems to have arisen a gravity which pulls us in dangerous directions. This morning, I riffed on Winston Churchill stating that "Capitalism is the worst economic system...except for all the others." Capitalism has produced an astonishing amount of wealth and has helped America win wars and defeat diseases, and many other great things. It is not necessarily a moral good, but it works when other systems fail. But we, as Christians, have to realize that Capitalism is merely an economic system; it is not a life philosophy and should not be internalized as a moral system.
Allow me to offer a brief and highly unscientific history of Capitalism in American culture. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, families ate together, they worshiped regularly, and had enjoyed a certain contentment with their lives. This all changed after the second World War. Basking in the glow of our victory in Europe and Asia, we enjoyed an unprecedented abundance. Things that had been rare delicacies became commonplace--required even. The workplace had to adjust to this new culture of abundance: home values and rental rates reflected this abundance, college tuition began to explode, automobile values expanded likewise. Before we had a chance to realize what was going on, the American economy required two-income households to keep pace; even as college entrance rose, selectivity for the best programs became more competitive; advancement in one's job became more competitive as well.
When we look at our culture today, we see a country that has unprecedented advantages, but at what cost. To be competitive in college entrance, students now come home to 3-5 hours of homework seemingly every day. Extra-curriculars have moms and dads racing back-and-forth from clubs, practices, and events. Moms are joining the workforce not because they have a passion or calling, but because they need to in order to swing the mortgage. Too many dads have to invest more and more time in their work to continue to advance, to afford the financial demands of college and retirement--or even to just squeak by. We have accumulated more than any civilization in history, but it came at a significant price and I am not sure people realize they have paid.
It has come at the expense of peace, joy, and satisfaction--or as the Bible calls it--rest. As we read this morning, one of the most important gifts God has given is that of rest. Jeremiah 6:16 states
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
It tells us to walk in the Ancient Paths--i.e. the Word of God that was lost until the time of Josiah--and we can find rest. This idea of rest is reflected in the words of Jesus:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Instead, the gravity of American culture has drawn us into a situation where we applaud hard workers. We applaud pastors who invest 80 hours a week and then demand 10 more; we applaud the soccer mom who manages to get each kid to their practices on time that week despite the cost to the family and the person; we applaud the co-worker who came in on a day off to help the company earn a couple extra dollars. Yet, like a frog in boiling water, we have become disconnected from the Biblical rest Jesus promises us, not just in the world to come, but this week (today even).
So why did I call "productivity" a sin? It is not a sin to be productive, it is a sin to be productive at the expense of the rest--the joy, peace, and satisfaction--for which God designed us. Rest is a gift that cost God much and when we treat it as either superfluous, or worse, as a distraction from our duty to be productive, we sin.
This is not a call to return to some primitive age, but hopefully can be a mirror in your life leading you to certain questions: Do you experience rest? Do you constantly feel overwhelmed and exhausted? Are your priorities dominated by the urgent necessities of American culture? Are you doing too much?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the antidote is found in Jeremiah 6:16. We are to look to the "ancient paths" or the "good way" instead of the culture around us to find rest. Following the ancient paths (i.e. the Word of God) will challenge our cultural priorities and develop in us new priorities--the priorities of the Bible which lead us to rest.