Glorious Web Designer: Talkin' 'Bout My Vocation
July 16th, 2008 in Web Design Worldview
by: Matthew Griffin
What's the most important job in the world? This question sounds like something a curious young child would ask his parents. Fireman... Policeman... Doctor... I don't know little Johnny; what do you want to be when you grow up? It seems silly to those of us who have grown up and chosen a vocational route—something we rarely think about. But it is typically the simplest and most basic questions whose answers carry the weightiest consequences. Closer consideration reveals that this question is actually utterly profound, and answering one way or another can dramatically affect the way you live your life. It is one of the most basic teleological inquiries and digs deep into the heart of human purpose. Is web designer the most important job in the world? If not—if it's just an unnecessary peripheral, then why am I not dedicating my life in some way to a vocation of real importance?
Approaching the Question of Vocation
If you asked a group of modern adults how you should decide what to do with your life, one of the most common answers you will get without a doubt is, "Whatever makes you happy." Now, in one sense this is a Christian answer but for now I'll just put a big caveat here and elaborate later. If we consider the root of this answer, we will find that it proposes the ultimate purpose of man is to be happy. Vocation has no actual end outside the individual performing the work. Although it sounds fluffy on the outside, this modern version of hedonism is really just a notch above despair. "Eat, drink... for tomorrow we die." There is no hope of building something that lasts. There is no virtue, no vice; only happiness and unhappiness. Just as in the ancient world of the Epicureans, the pursuit of happiness as the ultimate end is the harbinger of weak, shoddy creative work and the deterioration of culture and society. It fails the "can you live it?" test miserably.
There are also some who try to put together an actual hierarchy of vocational importance. For example, a committed naturalist might place scientist at the top of the list. A conservationist: Green Peace. An activist: political office. In fact, even many evangelical Christians would place pastor or evangelist at the top of the list. The problem, though, with placing a particular vocation at the top of the list is that you end up in a situation where the ideal society is made up of members supporting or directly participating in one activity. Any attempt to absolutize vocation and bring about perfect unity ultimately has this model as its end. Without going into detail, you can see that a lack of diversity in vocation would produce a society that is unlivable. But why? If we are all built for one purpose and the whole of society is dedicated to that purpose; why does it fail?
Discovering the Biblical Model for Vocation
If mankind does, in fact, have a purpose then the only place we can discover that purpose is by consulting what Aristotle called the "unmoved mover"—the first cause, the being that launched us in the direction we are going in the first place. Granted, Aristotle was unable to deduce the specifics of the the infinite personal God that is revealed in the Bible. But in many ways he was able to deduce the general relation of mankind (finite) to the infinite.
Of course, the ultimate purpose of all created things (according to the Bible) is to bring glory to the creator. But this assertion begs the question, how do we go about this? What activity of mankind brings the most glory to God? Fortunately, the specificity of the Bible does allow for a direct explanation of the purpose of mankind. In fact, in the first chapter of the first book in the Bible, God gives newly created mankind a command (called by theologians the dominion mandate or the cultural mandate) concerning what he is to do.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'
Gen 1:28 ESV
Remember, this command is being given to pre-fall mankind. This is the very first thing that God directed mankind to do. Now, God could have been very specific in this command; but instead, in one sentence, he legitimized all moral human endeavors extending to all areas of creation. But not only did he legitimize dominion, the implication of the command is that dominion is the very activity in which man is to participate in order to bring glory to God. Mankind was not created, as some Christians believe, to sit around in a garden eating (or not eating) fruit. He was designed to work and create. Is web design necessary to the physical survival of mankind? No. Is it necessary to the intended fulfillment of mankind? Absolutely. At the same time, however, the fact that the necessity of our work is derived (from God), rather than intrinsic (found inside ourselves), should make us humble and grateful.
In response to an article I recently wrote, I was charged by one reader of having too high a view of my job. And, although this was undoubtedly meant as an insult, I was immediately overwhelmed by the thought that I must be on the right track. My view of web design as a sacred work—my offering of praise and gratitude to my creator—must seem wildly out of touch with reality to a hedonistic culture. And for most modern evangelical Christians, it's a new concept at best. But it's one of the most distinct advantages we have in the creative marketplace. It's time we rediscover the dominion mandate and start living it.
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