Finding Flourishing in the Setting of Our Vocations

Finding Flourishing in the Setting of Our Vocations

The Reformer Martin Luther is well known for his life-changing views on salvation—salvation is a gift to be received, not a work to be achieved. Less known is Luther’s life-changing views on vocation. To rectify this, Michael Berg’s Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing, introduces Luther’s paradigm-shattering views on salvation, vocation, and the relationship between the two.


Grace is a big theme in this little volume. As the author reveals, our lives are so easily driven by self-justification. And there are few places as tempting to fall into the trap of self-justification as our places of employment. When we don’t see God’s acceptance of us in Christ, we are blind to our vocations as a way of loving, even as we have been loved. Indeed, without understanding God’s grace we are unable to fulfill our “holy orders” to love within our churches, civic life, families, and careers. But when grace does take root, we move from seeing our work as a place for self-justification (or to use the popular term “self-actualization”), to that of a vehicle for loving our neighbor.


Another central theme in this charming little volume is “God’s economy of love.” What does this phrase mean? Think for a moment about how God typically meets our everyday needs. God wants people fed. Now God could drop manna from heaven. But instead, God chooses to use farmers, transporters, and grocery store clerks. God wants people healthy. He could miraculously heal everyone. But God typically uses hospital staff, nurses, dentists, researchers, and medical companies. God wants things clean. He could send angels to miraculously tidy things up. But he typically uses janitors, trash collectors, and street sweepers. We could go on, but these will suffice to show that vocations are the primary vehicles through which God meets the concrete needs of this world. 


This means that—although we don’t see Him—God is behind the human actors who are teaching us, feeding us, healing us, and cleaning things up for us. This idea that God is hidden behind mundane vocations is part of Luther’s famous “Theology of the Cross.” Luther explained that the crucified God chooses to work in a hidden way. He is a God who prefers to work through weakness, through the mundane, through a carpenter on a cross, rather than through glitz and glory. Now just as the God of creation was hidden on a cross, God continues to hide as He works. He is “behind” the high school kid serving our table, the humble trash collector removing refuse, and the faithful bus driver arriving on schedule. These are the “masks” through which God serves us. Even if a fumbling waiter or grumpy retail clerk may hinder the way God desires to use them as his vehicle, God is still mysteriously at work—using broken instruments to bring human flourishing. 


A fourth theme in this little volume is that of the cross. Through Christ’s suffering God was revealed. In a similar way, our vocations will also involve a cross. To be clear, we may have a choice of various vocations (accounting vs. dentistry, for example). Even so, within every vocation those who work as co-laborers with Christ will have a cross to bear. This is especially true with jobs that could be deemed drudgery. For when love dictates that we put aside our dreams to work difficult jobs for our families and neighbors, we offer a picture of the cross—“at once tragic and beautiful.” But all those following Christ should expect to suffer in their vocation in some way. And yet— because the cross leads to life—when our vocational challenges are humbly offered back to God, flourishing occurs. People served and loved. And as a result our work takes on new significance. More than merely imitating Christ—we are doing Christ’s very work. As Berg poignantly puts it, “We are the hand of God, not a cheap imitation.” Under the cross, our work is transformed from drudgery to joy.

Want to learn more about how Luther’s views of salvation and vocation are intimately related? Consider picking up Michael Berg’s Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing.

From the Center for Faith + Work Los Angeles