Dwight Gibson is Chief Explorer at The Exploration Group, as well as Director of Program Outreach at the Acton Institute. He is featured in Acton’s video series: For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. Dwight was recently on the Wilmore campus of Asbury Theological Seminary to give a chapel sermon (3/3/15)and to spend the day with a group from the seminary and from Asbury University thinking through issues related to faith, work and the Wesleyan tradition.
This is part I of the Faith and Work Collective’s interview with Dwight, focusing on craftsmanship.
In your recent sermon in chapel, you focused on the work that God assigned Bezalel and Oholiab (mentioned together in Exodus 31 and in Exodus 35) to do in constructing the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant. You noted how they’re described in scripture as skilled craftsmen, whereas in modern times it would more common to describe these two workers as laborers. Does this shift in language convey something significant?
The scriptures in Exodus talk of them as being skilled with their hands and filled with the Spirit. When the scriptures talk about their work, there was a dignity, there was an honor in it—and for us humans a recognition of the source of it. When we shift from the word “craftsman” to the word “laborer”, we end up not focusing on the skill, but rather on getting the job done. And in doing that, I think we at times see the person more as a machine than as someone made in the image of God, doing their work for the glory of God.
And let me mention that a student came up to me after the chapel service. He was saying that they’ve started an Order of Bezalel and Oholiab there at the seminary!
I recall seeing an email to the Asbury community about that recently.
These are people who are thinking about crafts and honoring God with the skills of their hands. When I heard that from the student, I’m like, “Yes!”
In speaking of Bezalel, Oholiab and other workers described in Exodus, you emphasize that they were skilled with their hands. Is there significance in the fact that many people’s work is done, literally, with their hands?
Yes, let me say something about this aspect of “blessing in our hands.” We talk about the spiritual gifts we’ve been given; but we’ve also been given abilities as well. Especially since we’ve moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, we’ve celebrated the thoughts in people’s minds; we’ve celebrated their thinking. But we haven’t celebrated those who are skilled with their hands.
I can think of many people that I know, who might have a hard time sitting down and having the kind of conversation you might want to have with them. But if you set them to work on your house or your car, they have skill in their hands that makes a difference and blesses others. I think it’s important for us not only to celebrate that, but also to recognize that as an ability from God.
You ended the sermon with a challenge to imagine what it would look like for people of faith consistently to do their work for the glory of God. How do you think we can recognize when people are working for the glory of God? What kinds of things are we likely to see?
- One way this plays out is in the actual work itself, the product itself. If people are filled with the Spirit and recognize that they are producing this or that for the glory of God, my hope would be that these people are doing their best job. So in turn the product is of a better quality.
- Second, I think the workplace itself would be a more joyous place. This doesn’t mean there’s not hassles or problems at times, but that overall it’s a more joyous working environment. I can’t help but think of Boaz in the Book of Ruth. There’s a passage where he comes to the field: he greets the workers; the workers greet him. And you have a sense that it’s a joyful working place.
- Third, I’d like to think that if people say, “I am doing this work or running this business for the glory of God,” it will play out when it comes to wages and working environment. We recognize that we are not there to exploit each other or take advantage of each other. Fair wage, fair profit, good working conditions will be part of the way it plays out. At that point we don’t see people as machines; we see them as people and we want them to flourish in the working environment. So those are three things that come to my mind immediately. You could also go to environmental concerns, to creativity and its benefits, to people working together to make something grow. But those first three things I mentioned are the beginning of a list.