A Severed View of Work

What would you do for the opportunity to truly separate your work and home lives? This is the premise of Severance, the critically-acclaimed Apple TV+ series. Employees of the “severed” floor of Lumon Industries are required to undertake the severance procedure, in which a chip is inserted into their brains to keep their work memories separated from their non-work memories. While the workers of the Microdata Refinement department are initially content with their jobs, they grow suspicious of the company and seek to understand the deep secrets of Lumon Industries.

There are many difficult jobs in which it is challenging for workers to “turn off” once they get home or to find an appropriate work-life balance. The idea of literally forgetting work every day may be enticing for such people. But is that what work is really supposed to be? Should our careers be compartmentalized parts of our lives that hold no bearing on us once we return home? Do our jobs offer us nothing more than a paycheck? Let’s reflect on the nature of work.

An Escape from Pain
The main character, Mark S., undergoes the severance procedure not to forget work while at home, but to forget a traumatic life experience while he is at work. He uses his job as an escape from his pain. However, while Mark may forget the reason for his pain at work, his pain remains with him; he just doesn’t know why he is in pain. His coworkers note that there are days in which Mark comes to work with his eyes red and swollen from crying. Yet, no one, including Mark, knows why he was crying. Mark’s job may offer a temporary respite from his pain, but it does not alleviate his suffering.

There are many people like Mark who throw themselves into work as a coping mechanism for the difficulties they face in life. Maybe they take extra shifts and work overtime to avoid being home. Their work is a refuge from suffering. Certainly, work can be a way we can clear our heads and cool off our emotions, like taking a walk or going for a drive. Once we are thinking straight, we can face our problems afresh or resume a difficult conversation. However, it is unhealthy to avoid our problems forever. Mark’s pain rushes back every day once he leaves work, and he returns home to an evening of sadness. His severance only compartmentalizes his pain temporarily. He must eventually face his trauma and choose to heal. The same is true of all of us, no matter what we use to hide from our pain.

A Theology of Work
Although we all may not use work as a refuge from pain, many of us may still treat our careers as a compartmentalized part of our lives. Our jobs are nothing more than a means to a paycheck. Is that how we should view work, however? Is there a greater purpose to our labor than money or escapism? Let’s see what the Bible says about work.

1. Work is good
Many people think that work was instituted after the Fall, as a punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin, but this is not true. Genesis 2:15 says God put Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.” Thus, work is a good thing. It is a part of our purpose on earth as image-bearers. Sin has only made work more burdensome (Genesis 3:17-19).

2. Work for the glory of God
No matter what job you have, whether it is your dream career or a toilsome burden, God wants you to give it your all. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Although we may have an earthly boss, we are ultimately working for God and his glory.

3. God is your ultimate provider
We work to provide for ourselves and our families, which is important. However, it is very easy to obsess over money or to stress about the demands of life. Matthew 6:19-34 warns about both. Verses 19-24 decry amassing treasure on earth, as our earthly possessions are temporary. Is it wrong to be wealthy? Of course not. But it is wrong to desire wealth as our main drive in life. As Jesus warned, “You cannot serve both God and money” (v. 24). Work is good, but it (or its end) must not become an idol.

Even if we do not seek riches and fortune, we might obsess over our work out of fear of failing to provide for our families. However, Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us not to worry about the needs of life, as God is our ultimate Provider.

4. Laziness is sinful
While the above verses warn us about obsessing over the needs of life, there is the opposite extreme of ignoring the responsibility we have to care for ourselves and others. The Bible condemns this as well:

“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4).
“The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work” (Proverbs 21:25).
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

The Bible is clear that laziness and neglecting to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is sinful.

In Severance, working at Lumon Industries is a dystopian nightmare. Some of its workers consider themselves prisoners or slaves, with one woman even attempting suicide when her request to quit is rejected. This fictional, nightmarish workplace is not at all what God desires for us. Certainly, many of us work undesirable jobs simply because we need to pay the bills. However, work itself is not evil; it is good, instituted by God himself at the beginning of human history. Work gives us purpose, meaning, and a sense of accomplishment. Sin has only distorted work. Like Mark S., some of us treat work as a temporary escape from pain. Others’ careers may be an idol or simply a means of amassing wealth. But this is not God’s intention for work. When we work, we are acting as God’s stewards over creation. It is our way of helping to redeem this world and restore it (as best we can) to God’s original intended state of goodness. As such, we need a healthy view of work and a proper balance between our jobs and our home lives.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com.