“BBC Apprentice” and the Difficulties of Work
The camera rolls and images of the iconic Gherkin and Canary Wharf tower flash past our screen. The camera pans to aerial views of this great industrious city of London. The smell of money lingers in the air as Sir Alan Sugar rolls up in his Bentley, ready to greet his new aspiring Apprentices. London regularly attracts fresh hot shots fuelled with ambition and drive, like these new contestants.
However, lurking beneath the entrepreneurial buzz of work is a darker side. If you’re watching the current series of BBC’s The Apprentice, you will see not just ideas and products come into play: The manifestation of the human nature is put on display as control and pride ferments in the task and erupts in the boardroom. It lands with Sir Alan Sugar ejecting one apprentice with the departing words “You’re fired!”.
This shady side to work presents us with the question: “Why has the goodness of work become corrupted?” and, “Why are relationships in the workplace so difficult?”.
The Joy Of Work
Some of us might not associate the word “goodness” with work but rather see it as something to get through in order to pay the bills. This may come as a surprise but “work” was part of paradise in the Garden of Eden as much as was leisure. God introduced the idea of work when He himself worked to create the Earth as we know it at the Beginning of Time.
“By the seventh day, God finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2). God showed us the essence of work when He created order out of chaos. God created elaborate realms like the sky and Earth which He filled with incredible wonders like animals and nature.
God rested from all He had done at the end of the 7-day work cycle and was able to reflect on His masterpiece and take satisfaction from it “For God saw all that he has made, and it was very good”. (Genesis 1:31).
Today, we’ve been given the special task of following in God’s pattern of work. “God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Each of us is called to a domain or to a “garden” to cultivate and steward. This process occurs when we use the resources from the ground and turn them into something valuable and useful for others.
When all our collective works come together, we effectively advance human societies and produce living communities that we can positively shape.
Thorns And Thistles In The Workplace
When the human heart deviates from God’s intention for work and how to best organise resources to bring value to our societies, it shifts its attention inwardly and thinks to itself “How can I make myself look better than the rest?”.
Each episode of The Apprentice unfolds in the same way. Teams collect and discuss how to approach the given task. During the activity, relationships unravel and brash contestants end up shouting over one other in the back of their black Mercedes and hurling shade at one other in the boardroom.
Why is this? Part of the fall of man meant our gardens bore not just “good fruit from our labour” but also produced “infested thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18). Sin is not a word we use often today but we are all affected by sin in one form or another because we are imperfect humans.
Sin distorts our relationships and turns our workplaces into battlegrounds where people indirectly or directly duel to “make a name for themselves”. This striving to force or hold onto our positions produces all sorts of thistles as control and fear incubate in the heart. This explains why work can be satisfying, and other times frustrating, disappointing and challenging.
A Tower For Self-Glorification
When the heart no longer thinks about the greatness of the Creator, it fills that void and calls attention to its personal greatness. This is seen in the blatant hunger for power and excessive boasting that is paraded on The Apprentice. As one of the latest contestants, Camila Ainsworth, puts it: “I’m an extremist, I’m after world domination”. This desire to want “world domination” for itself is similar to the ambitions of the people in the Tower Of Babel.
In this Biblical account (Genesis 11, 1-9), the people settled in a place called Shinar and started to build themselves a tower. In verse 4, they say to each other; “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.
This account is the perfect illustration of the heart’s propensity to want to elevate itself and “reach the heavens”. There was nothing wrong with building a tower per se. But the people’s plan was motivated by a self-glorification as they sought to elevate and engineer their statuses “to the heavens“. In other words, they wanted to slay in God’s lane and be worshipped as human deities.
At one level, this speaks to our individual heart, but this is also a cautionary tale about tribalism. As it was to do with a group of people that wanted to maximise their power and glory by forming tribes, which built their main identity on their group’s distinctiveness.
The Elusive Ceiling Of Heaven
Have you noticed something about people who overwork? It’s not usually out of financial necessity or even to compensate for a lack of work productivity. We have so knitted our self-worth to our KPIs (key performance indicators) that work renders us constantly lacking. Some would say this impetus is conducive to obtaining our modern ideals of “progressiveness”: edging closer to the full capacity and frontiers of mankind. However, if we observe our current climate, we’ve made huge strides forward in technology and science but are we any closer to where we want to be? With all our sophistication, are we any happier? What is it we keep chasing?
The people who built the Tower Of Babel are not too dissimilar from us today. We can often possess a physical and spiritual exhaustiveness when we seek to solve our own transcendence. Like the greyhound who chases the mechanical hare, the game is rigged from the start, and we try and mask our discontent by aiming for the elusive ceilings of Heaven where God belongs.
In the aforementioned Biblical account, God wisely frustrates the people’s plan to build a tower to “themselves” by “confusing their languages so they would not understand each other”. In effect, God turned up the conflict dial so that confusion ensued. Perhaps in God’s infinite wisdom, he understood that if left completely unencumbered by social obstacles, we would’ve heaped further harm on ourselves, the first load being the loss of eternal life, after the fall.
Historian and Philosopher, Yuval Noah Harari noted the destructiveness of this human phenomenon to “reach for the heavens” with scathing accuracy in The New York Times bestseller “Sapiens”. In his book, Harari surveys the history of humankind and closes with this final observation.
“We are more powerful than ever before but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?’
A Work Of Excellence
We contrast the building of the Tower to the rebuilding of the Wall of Jerusalem in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. In both accounts, the builders were essentially doing the same manual labour. They were building a construction from bricks and mortar yet in their hearts, they had different motivations.
Unlike the people of Babel, Nehemiah’s concern was not centred on himself but towards God’s defenceless people and the threat of invaders. Nehemiah was a gifted leader, yet he consulted God through prayer. The preparation in Nehemiah’s heart curbed the temptation to seek personal greatness and gave ample room for God to work. God blessed Nehemiah’s leadership as he diligently led the people to the successful rebuilding of the wall.
What stands out about Nehemiah’s attitude to his work is his sense of excellence. When we understand what it means to “work as if we are working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23), we have the view that whatever area in which we’re called to serve, we strive towards excellence. Nehemiah displayed this attitude when he diligently planned and strategically organised tasks before actual construction took place.
His approach to excellence mirrors how God works and reveals Himself when He creates the Heavens. ”The heavens declare the Glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). So we strive towards excellence to make God look good.
The Final Reconstruction
Although work is necessary for our prosperity and for building the societies we’re all part of, even when we achieve success, the fulfilment we gain can be fleeting. And we’re then confronted with the sense that any accomplishments in this finite material world will never last.
This frustrating elusiveness is poignantly reflected in the book of Ecclesiastes. As the author puts it “So I hated life because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it meaningless, a chasing after the winds” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). This incoherence can sound depressing but its sense of wanting is supposed to point us to something deeper. A deeper desire that cannot be fulfilled completely by our work.
As we build towers, careers, and reputations on this earth, there’s one thing we could never have built in our own strength. If building a wall in one nation has become a politically charged symbol of prejudice and divisiveness against the “bad hombres” in another, then it’s antithesis is a sturdy bridge that symbolises reconciliation and peace.
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility“. (Ephesian 2; 13-15)
Through the work of all works, Jesus’s perfect temple was destroyed so that an everlasting and sturdy bridge could be reconstructed back to God. Jesus deemed us worthy and gave himself up so we could have access to God and enter into a hope that outlasts this material world.
Written by Ann Ajet
Ann Ajet is the lead writer at Bread and is based in London. She writes articles that cover the intersection between Culture and Faith. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring street food markets with her husband and daughter.
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