Monday, March 27, 2006

God's Work

This morning I was asked to participate in a virtual roundtable discussion on how people can do God's work while at work. I have no idea how my remarks will appear in the newspaper, so I thought I would share what I said in its entirety:

Before we can say how we go about doing God’s work, we have to be clear as to what God’s work is. I imagine there are many definitions, I take mine from the Prophet Micah: “You know what God requires: Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Every moment of our lives we are given opportunities to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. The jobs we do are simply more of those opportunities. So let’s take up each aspect of God’s work in turn.

Doing justly. No matter what your job, your actions must be just. A recent news story reported a trend among many hospitals to inflate the costs charged to the uninsured sometimes by thousands of dollars. While many who work for such hospitals may say they are doing God’s work— healing the sick, for example— can they say so unequivocally if they are participating in a system that is fundamentally unjust? Doing justly requires that you look not only at your actions, but the system within which those actions take place.

Loving mercy. No matter what your job, your actions must be compassionate. I have met many healers, social workers, and therapists whose job descriptions might lead us to believe they are doing God’s work, but whose attitudes are so lacking in kindness that, by God’s own standard, we would have to challenge that claim. It is not just what you do, but how compassionately you do it that matters to God.

Walking humbly with your God. This is a bit more subtle. Why “your God” rather than simply God? The answer is that God is speaking not about God as God truly is, but about our ideas of God. Each of us has an image of God that we hold true, yet God is beyond imagining. Walking humbly with your God means knowing that your image is only an image, and not God. We don’t like to think of our theologies as idols, but when they are not held humbly, they become nothing less. Walking humbly means walking without idols, trusting in God rather than insisting on our particular image of God. Given this, even clergy who by definition are said to do God's work, may in fact be working not for God but for their cherished idols. Any rabbi, priest, pastor, or imam whose god sanctions injustice and cruelty is not doing God's work, but simply using his or her idol to excuse his or her own fear and violence.

God’s work is done moment-by-moment, at work and at home, in the office and on the roadways, when we meet face to face or over the phone or email. And it is always the same: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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dmann said...

I, too, I'd like to think, try to adopt Micah's definition of what God requires. It is not complicated (although life can be), and is as close to us as our breath. And one cannot say it is out of reach or unattainable. Everything we do is an extension of our personality: our work, the way we drive, the way we wait and the way we act, and the way we treat our fellow creatures.

Thank you Rabbi. Although it may not always be easy to translate Micah's simple instructions to our everyday lives, it is something toward which we can all strive.