Today I read through Isaiah 44-46 in my devotional study, and the LORD spends a good chunk of those passages explaining why the man-crafted idols are whack, why He Himself is great, and where Israel’s source of identity is found (spoiler alert, it’s found in being chosen by God).
As I read through these chapters and reflected on how silly it sounded to be worshipping a block of wood, I thought, “are we really all that different today?”.
What if our wooden idols just aren’t wooden anymore?
New Dogs, Old Tricks
Workism is a fairly well-known concept in the US by now, having now been mentioned for a few years on popular media platforms like the Atlantic since early 2019. While the concept itself is something we are familiar with, sometimes the title of “workism” isn’t always as commonly known.
Workism is a practice of fashioning your identity around your work, crafting a new person from your career, pursuits, or productivity, and forming your future in the image of your own making.
Workism has unfortunately become a religion in the US by technical definition, as religion can be defined as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith” (Merriam Webster). Again, most unfortunately, this worship of self & work has become something that has produced much zeal and dedication in this nation over the past few years (or decades, really). Workism has struck the heart of corporate America and filtered its way into the daily lives of those in the less-corporate roles as well. It really hits everyone here.
While this worship may not look like bowing down before a wooden block, I would dare to suggest that we are simply replacing the wooden block with something else: a piece of paper, a direct deposit receipt, a name tag, a nicer office, a new platform, or a new level of productivity.
We may not shape a block of wood, but we shape our futures. We may not craft a metal image, but we craft our “perfect outcome”. We may not form an engraved icon, but we form our own selves around what we can accomplish. Does that sound about right to you?
Israel worshipped blocks of wood; we worship our careers. New dogs, old tricks.
Worship and Workism
Part of the power behind the depiction of Israel’s worship in Isaiah 44:9-20 is how ridiculous it sounds. These verses walk us alongside a man that waters a tree, cuts it down, shapes it with human strength, crafts it into the image of another man, burns some of it to cook his food on, then uses the rest of it to fall before it and worship, asking it to save him from his troubles.
… Yeah. Really, you just have to imagine the face of God looking absolutely baffled.
The rest of this chapter, and the next two, really put a lot of emphasis on the LORD in saying things like, “I made the earth and created man on it…” (45:12) and “I am God, and there is no other” (45:22b).
What the LORD does is draw a stark contrast between His creation of Israel (“who have been borne by me”, 46:3) and Israel’s creation of idols (“hire a goldsmith, he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship”, 46:6).
He says, “I created you, I sustain you, and I will save you. Why would you build something of your own hands and in your own image when I am the only one who can save you?”
Great question, God. Why would we do that?
Worship is something we were created to do.
The LORD says in Isaiah 43:7, “… everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
He also says, “… for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself [so] that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:20-21).
It is here we see two examples of both God’s creation of us as His people and the purpose of this creation being found in worship to God.
Worship is certainly an innate thing we do. If we aren’t worshipping God, we are worshipping something else. Often, we can find find our worship misplaced at times too, leading us away from God and towards trusting in something else – typically of our own making. This is exactly what workism produces as well.
We were created to worship. Yet, we put that worship in the wrong place. A lot.
Workism speaks to a desire for identity. When it comes to identity formation, we are meant to find that identity in the context of our relationship with God.
Israel was often defined by their allegiance to God. It was not their unique human qualities that set them apart from the surrounding nations, it was their obedience and worship to the LORD, the God of Israel. Since Abraham, the people had been recognized and set apart by their identity as God’s people. It was God’s presence that set them apart, not their work or their appearance (though they did look different).
Workism is foundationally a sin. It is an offshoot of pride and idolatry, which puts our work or self in place of God as the source of identity and as the object of worship.
Still, not many religions are as popular in society as workism is today, even among professing Christians.
In fact, we all often fall short in this area and can be temporarily blinded by our desire to be approved or accepted or valued based on our work.
Workism is an outlet for us to find our value outside of God. We can use the channel of workism to funnel our source of security away from God and into the hands of our title, career, or workplace. This practice of workism is simply something that the fallen nature of man has often led us to do.
But we don’t want to stay there, do we?
Leaving the Woods
When it comes to workism, what does it look like to quit watering the trees for shaping our idols?
It may look different for some of us than for others, but we all have some room to recognize our shortcomings in trusting God as our provider.
Workism is a trust in our self and our work to receive our value, identity, and purpose. Worship to God is a place where we receive these things all from the hand of Him who formed us in our mothers’ wombs.
Worship sacrifices our insufficiencies in exchange for God’s fullness. Workism trades God’s fullness for insufficiencies.
The biggest challenge is not in recognizing that this is an awful trade, but in recognizing where in our lives we made that trade.
At the end of the day, we must put our trust in the Holy Spirit as we examine ourselves and re-calibrate our hearts to align with God in proper worship to Him.
As we serve the Creator and not the creation, we find ourselves in right alignment with His heart. It is here we find our sense of true identity, purpose, and value.