The United States is today observing the civic holiday of Labor Day. According to the Department of Labor,
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
We all benefit from the labor of others, and we should certainly acknowledge the debt we owe them. Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894. It has its origins in the labor movement of the 19th century and the fight against the exploitive and abusive conditions in which many people worked.
Still today, many people throughout the world toil in dehumanizing and dangerous conditions for tiny wages that are insufficient to sustain anything approaching a decent life. Some labor amounts to little more than slavery. Constantly changing economic conditions threaten the livelihood of everyone. Chronic unemployment and underemployment contribute to all sorts of social problems.
All people work so they can eat. Not everyone is lucky enough to have work that they find meaningful or personally fulfilling. Extremely fortunate are those who do.
I don’t have the all the solutions to the world’s economic difficulties. The world’s economy is the very definition a “wicked problem.” In addition to labor, our economic well-being requires inventiveness and creativity, vision and organization, and the risk taking that comes with economic investment. Economic and political realities limit what is possible, and the best intentions often have unintended consequences. In this present age, we can’t wave a magic wand and make everything all right. There is no economic utopia just over the horizon.
Biblically informed Christians will offer generous assistance to those who suffer economically, especially within the “household of God.” Christians who own businesses or manage employees should look upon their vocation as a trust from God, exercising responsible love for their neighbors. Christians in participatory democracies can use voice and their vote to shape the political environment for the good of all. The economic world of the Bible doesn’t directly translate into 21st century realities, but it’s important for Christians to understand how God has revealed himself in the economic life of his people throughout the ages. Christ-shaped people follow their conscience and their best judgment.
Most of all, Christians can pray for all of those who daily experience the truth of Ecclesiastes 2:22-23:
What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
We pray for the day when fruitless toil will end, and we pray that Christ’s people might anticipate that day in their lives together.