The idea of retirement is a little funny when you think about it. Why is it that we think we only need to work for about 2/3 of our adult lives and then get to kick back and relax for the last 1/3 of it?
At best, this (very modern) view of retirement enables us to pursue passions we had put off for other responsibilities. At worst, the idea of retirement kind of looks really selfish, doesn’t it? Are you just going to relax until you die?
There’s a study from Boston College that indicates that people that work longer live longer too. Does that surprise you? It doesn’t surprise me, especially when you look at this through a biblical worldview lens.
The book of Genesis shows that mankind was created with the intention to work in chapter 2 verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Right from the beginning it’s clear that we aren’t meant for idleness or living lives of self-centered luxury, we are meant to work! The question of work and retirement cannot be addressed without talking about a much bigger question: What is the meaning of life?
Modern man has tended (especially in the Western world) toward a philosophy of extreme individualism, an idea that Francis Schaeffer described as the “pursuit of personal peace and affluence” as the answer to that question. This philosophy prioritizes selfish gain above all other motivations for work and is tragically missing the entire point of life and is sadly devoid of any deeper meaning. Many work for wealth, buying things they don’t need to impress people that they don’t know, trying to use money to find a purpose in their lives. Many work to buy experiences that they hope will satisfy them. Many try to work as little as possible, to live a hedonistic lifestyle.
The Christian church has co-opted this idea of chasing personal peace and affluence by attempting to sanctify it. Becoming righteous by working has historically been a hotly debated topic among Christians, and it’s an idea that I believe scripture clearly subverts (we need the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith to be counted righteous). However, more subtle versions of this philosophy have crept into our minds because of the world’s influence. Many think “If I work hard, I deserve to retire to a life of leisure. After all, I’ve earned it. I spent 30 or 40 years working and living for my family, my church, my employer, and/or my customers. Now it’s my turn to live for myself”. This sure looks a lot like narcissism and sin.
God calls his creation to work. The first command given to Adam in Genesis 1:28 was to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Though the ability to fulfill that command was marred by the fall and a curse was added (Genesis 3:17-19 “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”), we are still to work.
For the Christian, we are able to toil in our work with joy because of the promise God made to send a redeemer who would crush Satan and sin and death once and for all (Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her See; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel”). The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24 says we can have joy in work after observing the futility of it, “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God”. It takes the Grace of God to be happy in our work, but for the believer this is a gift we can joyously receive.
It is normal to toil and work in this life. It is normal to rest and relax as well. It is important to realize that our work does not define who we are, rather our identity in Christ defines us. For the Christian, this means living a life devoted to working hard in whatever vocation we are in as Colossians 3:23 says “Therefore whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not men”. For the Christian, this means that we will never retire to a life of leisure unto ourselves, but instead work hard for the Kingdom of God, walking in righteousness. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” This kingdom work never ends and though we are toiling until death, we have joy and purpose and comfort. We will “not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart”. (Galatians 6:9).