(A Portrait of the Artist as a young John Galt)

   Who is John Galt? That’s the question which pulses through the heart of Atlas Shrugged, the massive novel by Ayn Rand that became my personal manifesto during college as I wrestled with the meaning of life, and sought to discover who I was as an adult. John Galt became my heroic alter ego—a rugged individualist who created new technology and built entrepreneurial companies to bring products to market, all for the sake of human achievement and progress.

In a sense, I became John Galt, claiming his ideals as my own. I patterned my life and goals on his. Atlas Shrugged gave me a ringing endorsement for my ambitions. Work became for me an avenue to achievement and success; I began to define myself by what I produced, as a scientist, inventor, entrepreneur and businessman. I developed new products and co-founded a company, earned patents, raised venture capital, managed teams of people, and got my picture in the newspaper. It was a wild, fun ride.

But through it all, there lingered in the back of my mind a worry that something was missing in the world of John Galt. To place absolute value on productivity reduced life to a balance sheet which held no place for intangibles like compassion and sympathy. Love seemed not to enter into the equation. I worried about how to place a value upon a life, or upon the experiences, and even suffering, of people whose worth couldn’t be measured by the standards of economic efficiency. Yet, I remained convinced by the example of John Galt that selfishness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The lesson of Atlas Shrugged is that selfishness (or if you prefer, self-concern, or love of self) can produce all kinds of good things for humankind. That’s how profit serves the common good. But to treat selfishness as an absolute good is an entirely different matter. The absolutism of John Galt seems to have a hole in it. Love and mercy don’t seem to be accounted for in the “gospel” according to John Galt (read, Ayn Rand).

This is precisely the dilemma confronted by the biblical author of Ecclesiastes. The expectation that we might find out the meaning of life through personal achievement and the things produced by working is a “vanity of vanities”; it’s like “chasing after the wind” [Eccl. 1:2, 14…]. The problem is that the meaning of life and the purpose of work are not to be found in the act of work itself, but rather in the relational context of our work.  “What do you do for a living?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “What (or Who) makes your work life-giving?”

I can identify with the writer of Ecclesiastes. I was in mid-life before I finally discovered the only hope to enjoy meaningful work without “chasing after the wind”. The only answer I’ve ever found to that dilemma is to live in relationship with the creator God who loves you and me, and who designed us for work—the God who is, the God who is Love, the God we know in and through Christ Jesus.

When our work is celebrated as an expression of who God made us to be, it has meaning. When work serves God’s love for ourselves, for our neighbors and for all creation, it is life-giving, and takes on eternal value. The meaning lies in the relationships which make work valuable. Work has meaning when we see it as part of the story God is telling through us. Living by faith is the source of joy in our work. We don’t find our meaning by going to work, but rather, we bring the meaning of work with us when we enter into it in faith. In faith we discover that work is joyful, because its ultimate value exists in relationship. Here is the impact of the Gospel upon our work—our true, life-giving identity is found not in our job, but in Christ who makes our job meaningful. This is our secret identity as workers—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” [Col. 1:27; 3:3,4]—which we bring to work and which redeems our work to the glory of God. The only way to lead a life which integrates purposeful work, ambition and love, is to live by faith. To discover our secret identity in Christ is to find the path to integrate our faith and work; this is where  we will find the Gospel at work.


Comments are closed.