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Work: Lent with Karl Marx

February 25th, 2009 by isaac · No Comments

As I was trying to think through a sermon for Ash Wednesday, I returned to Genesis 3 where God tells Adam and Eve that they came from dust and shall return to dust: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” God links this declaration of human mortality with labor pains: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground.” This got me thinking about Karl Marx’s discussion of “alienation.” We are alienated from our work, and we are alienated from ‘nature.’ We make something and immediately have to sell it to make money. The creation of our hands is removed from us and belongs to someone else. Similarly, humans are the creation of the earth but are individuated and removed from ‘nature.’ We hope for labor without alienation—to enjoy the work of our hands, to find reconcilation in our work.

So I flipped through a book I read a few years ago: Nicholas Lash, A Matter of Hope: A Theologian’s Reflections on the Thought of Karl Marx (1984). According to Lash, Marx insists that a human being’s “fundamental relationship to reality is to be sought in the transformative character of human labour... Man is part of material reality (even if he is not ‘only’ that), and it is in ‘working’ that reality of which he is a part, with his hands and his eyes, his muscles and his mind, that he is able to become himself in reality and reflection, in life and in though” (103). Marx says it all in a pithy sentence: “Man produces himself through work.”

Since Lash is a theologian, he can’t help but bring Christ’s work into the picture. This is a beautiful passage: “The ‘work’ of Christ consisted in his obedience to, his unswerving trust in, the silence he called ‘Father’.... Good Friday was not the unfortunate disruption of his preaching. It was the execution of that which his preaching proclaimed: God’s transformative fidelity to his creation…. To believe in Christ’s resurrection is to believe that Jesus’ dying into God, his enactment of dependency on God was, as dying into God, as the enactment of dependency on God, the achievement of his freedom, his identity, his eternity” (193).

Now my task is to see if there’s a sermon in here somewhere…

Tags: reading corner · theology