My pastor preached a sermon recently on what it means to have a vocation. He referenced a book by Gene Edward Veith Jr. called “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life“. Given how remarkable the sermon was, I decided to pick up a copy for my Kindle – after all, I had a long 5 hour flight to WA coming up and could use some decent reading material.
I must say, this book does a fantastic job of illuminating just what the purpose of our vocations are. The author sets the stage with this quote:
Our relationship to God, then, has nothing to do with our works. Our relationships to other people, though, in the world God has placed us in, do involve our works. “In God’s sight it is actually faith that makes a person holy,” says Luther in his “Large Catechism”; “it alone serves God, while our works serve people”. As theologian Gustaf Wingren puts it, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does“.
That sets the foundational premise of the approach to tackling your vocation: serving one’s neighbor. This is a subtle, but incredibly important shift in how one view’s their life’s work. God hasn’t provided your vocation in order for you to climb the corporate ladder, or pursue fame and fortune – but rather to fulfill the second half of the Great Commandment: “To love people”.
For me, practically speaking I make video games for a living. This has transformed my viewpoint from, “how do I make something I can be proud of”, to: “how can I best entertain and serve the person who buys this game?” You see, that’s an incredibly profound shift in viewpoint from one that is ‘me centered’ to one that is ‘neighbor centered’. It means that our job provides us an opportunity to be Christ to those who purchase our goods and services.
I think Veith also does a brilliant job in defining vocation. These days we have come to define the word as our ‘career’. However, Veith is pretty good in going back to the original definition, which my Mac’s dictionary provides the origin as:
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French, or from Latin vocatio(n-), from vocare ‘to call.’
So he’s quite right in defining it as our calling. We are used to saying that our pastor or elders have a calling from God – but Veith is quite clear that God calls us to every station in life that we find ourselves in. God has called me to be a father. He has called my wife to be a mother who homeschools her children. He has called us to be children of our parents. He has called us to be citizens of the United States.
All of these things are callings that we have to be faithful to and treat as our vocation. Therefore, the book also touches upon how a Christian serves their country, how they serve their parents, how they serve their children, etc. The doctrine of vocation is therefore one of the most practical and useful bits of theology to grab a hold of.
Veith deals with ethical issues in a completely sensical way. Here’s an excerpt on his thinking on entertainment focused industries, which has always been a struggle for me since I work in one:
Those in the entertainment business-actors, filmmakers, musicians-enjoy a legitimate calling. Entertaining their neighbors, giving pleasure to them, and perhaps giving them insight (as good art always does) is a way of loving and serving them. But sometimes their directors push them to create the pleasure of sin in their audiences. Here the Christian in that vocation must draw the line. Being an actress may be a worthy vocation for a Christian, but doing a nude scene is no part of her divine calling. Musical talent is a remarkable gift from God, but playing in a Death Metal band that celebrates mayhem, sadism, and the occult can hardly be what God has in mind for the use of those gifts. Instead of corrupting their neighbors, Christian artists are called to serve them through their artistic gifts, which may create conflict with their nonbelieving colleagues. That is to say, like all Christians, they must battle the temptations of the world.
Great real world advise, and one that sees redeeming value in the arts and entertainment. Veith does a fantastic job in tying all of our vocations to the doctrine of Common Grace. That is, God shows His love for His Creation through people:
Thus human work is an imitation of God’s work, a participation in God’s creation and His creativity. Ruling, subduing, multiplying, causing plants to grow, making things-these are what God does, and yet God gives them as tasks to human beings.
You see, Jesus is not currently present on the Earth in bodily form. He no longer (ordinarily) heals the sick directly. He uses doctors. He no longer feeds masses of people with miraculous multiplication of bread. He uses farmers. He does not punish the wicked criminals directly (on this Earth) – He uses Law Enforcement Officers. He doesn’t rule the nations directly, He uses the world’s rulers and authorities. God is ruling through means. God provides through means. And this is something else that Veith puts forth with tremendous clarity.
Overall, I cannot recommend the book highly enough. Veith is a Lutheran Theologian and so will differ in some slight ways from those of us who hold to Calvinist/Classical Reformed Theology. But none of those issues really pop up in this book and so I am urging all of my friends to read this book unreservedly. One of the best things I’ve read this year.