Theologian and Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote in his book Until Justice and Peace Embrace, “Gratitude, obedience and vocation – these are at the centre of Calvinist social piety: obedience motivated by gratitude and expressed in vocation.” Today, as a pastor, my thoughts and prayers are with my young people receiving A level results. Those results will seem the most defining thing in their lives. My longing though is that whether those results are good or disappointing, whether they are enough to reach the university of their choice or not, that they will not distract them from the vocation that they were gifted to live out. Of course vocation is much more than what we do in our job but the two are related and what this Calvinistic idea is suggesting that our obedience is worked out in what we do with our lives.
Let us go back to the beginning and ask what humanity’s vocation is? God gave a clear cultural mandate to humanity when he told man and woman, “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” God takes man and puts him in the garden “to work it and take care of it.” This was reiterated after the Flood when mankind got a brand new start. Noah and his sons are given the same task as Adam and Eve, to “fill the earth,” and God tells them that “just as I give you the green plants, I now give you everything.” After God had created the world he put in place a cultural structure with families, governments, Churches, businesses, craftsmen’s guilds and schools for the well being of society. Humanity has been given the vocation of looking after the earth and all the responsibility that comes with that.
Of course the Fall twisted and gnarled the outworking of this mandate. Jesus therefore calls us again into a new vocational relationship. Jesus life and death and resurrection energizes us in his redeeming power to redeem the entire cosmos. Nineteenth Century theologian, academic and ultimately Prime Minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper believed in his Calvinistic worldview that there was “not one square inch of the entire Cosmos which Christ does not say, “That is mine!” As a result when Jesus calls us to the vocation of following him we are charged to reach into every nook and cranny of our world to redeem it with Kingdom Of God values. Our obedience fired by our gratitude for what Christ has done for us is worked out in our vocations taking us into education, industry, medicine, the arts, politics and science to redeem every part of it.
That is the Biblical umbrella under which we need to think a little more personally. Frederick Buechner is a Presbyterian minister who devoted his life to writing novels and other books of deep spiritual wisdom. On vocation he writes, “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.” This is a profound proverb to help guide us along our journey of following. God has made each of us different. Some of us will get a buzz from algebra and some of us from rhythm and rhymes. Using the gifts we have been given should lead us into a deep souled satisfaction when we are using them well. That satisfaction is not to massage our own self indulgence but for the good of the world. Therefore, our gifts are for the common good of humanity and we need to find that place where our gladness meets the world’s need.
This is where our gratitude to Christ will be revealed through our obedience in the outworking of your vocation. A foible of recent evangelicalism has been “conversionism” where we are going to hell and God calls us to a place in heaven. Our earthly discipleship, obedience and vocation get stunted as a result. If we look at the Old Testament patriarchs or prophets or the New Testament apostles, no one is called to heaven but to service on earth. Heaven is like a pension plan for years of vocational service for the Kingdom – well done my good and faithful servant. So, whatever today’s results may bring I pray that, in whatever comes next, my students will have this spiritual perspective and find their way into life in all its fullness which will be found where their deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.