“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
St. John’s Gospel (1:14 NRSV)
A central message of the Christian faith is that God saves what God assumes. Or, rather, God makes holy that which He takes into Himself (John 15:5, Eph. 1:7-10, Col. 1:15-20, 1 Cor. 8:6,15:28). This is a profound and wonderful mystery (Col. 1:26). We would not know its power and beauty had it not been revealed in the incarnation, where God took into Himself our nature without confusing His own divinity (Council of Chalcedon, 451). God assumed our nature into His experience by living as a true – the truest – man. He experienced life as a man; being born, learning, losing friends, and dying. No doubt, therefore, God knows what it is to labor as a person. God knows what it is to pick up a hammer and drive a nail into wood. Through Christ, human laboring has become a shared experience between us and the Godhead – a channel for friendship between God and humankind. Put another way, our labor has become an outward means of an invisible grace, a kind of sacrament, having been incorporated into the mystery of redemption.
Seeking to understand the world in an incarnational way is part of our catholic heritage as Anglicans. As a member of HTC and having recently completed the New City Fellows program this last year, I’ve been challenged to think critically about my own work and the way in which my work provides a means for developing a deeper friendship with God. I work as a PhD candidate at Duke University studying environmental engineering, specifically relating to the transport of viruses through environmental matrices. At a time like this, there’s no lack of virus-oriented conversation. However, the viruses I study aren’t the kind most people would call “bad.” They’re bacteriophages – viruses which infect and destroy bacteria. This could be to one’s advantage or disadvantage depending upon the context. Bacteriophage research has been revived from its dormancy in recent years as researchers consider the potential benefits of bacteriophage use in environmental and engineered systems, such as wastewater disinfection.
So, what does the incarnation have to say about my vocation? Where does my work, for example, fit into God’s redemption of creation?
To address the first question, by faith and baptism I have been united with Christ and with Him my life has been hidden in God (Col. 3:3). Because of this, my personal vocation from God is a vocation which God Himself has deemed worthy as a means of working redemption into the world. In summary: it’s a co-laboring. I am not alone in my work. It is God who is at work in me, with me, beside me, and through me. Yet, my work is still my own. Just as God from God partook of human life, so now we have been made partakers of the divine life (2 Peter 1:3-4). The labor of God and the labor of man in God has been conjoined by the God-man. This is fitting, because God the Father has always labored and worked through His Word.
In my own particular work, there is on the one hand nothing unique in the eschatological ramifications of what I do in comparison to any other labor under the sun since we are all one body in Christ. Yet, on the other hand, it is unique in that it is a vocation which I as a particular person have been called to perform as a member of the body. This is because while God is at work in the redemption of all things through our various vocations, our unique vocations are means whereby God engrafts unique personal graces into our lives and into the world. It is in this way our labor could be thought of sacramentally. It is a unique channel of redemptive grace which is poured into our lives so that our labor is not only for our redemption but also for the redemption of others, temporally and eternally. As an example, if my work ultimately contributes to advancements in disinfection technologies it would surely have been my work. Yet, it would also have been God’s labor of redemption applied to the world through the vocation He has assigned to me or to any of His other adopted children. The result becomes a temporal benefit to self and society and an eternal benefit through a participation in the divine life.
Those who are in God, with Christ, are workers in God, with God.
Ethan Hicks is a member of Holy Trinity and an alumnus of New City Fellows (Class of 2020).