#226 – “Choices” REWIND: Beautify or Uglify

CHOICES REWIND:  We are taking a bit of a sabbatical in May travelling to places with little or no Wi-Fi or cell service.  We thought it would be a good time to look back at a few posts that focused on the choices a faithful leader must make in pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  The posts will be substantially as they were when originally published–but not exactly.  We hope you have forgotten enough to still enjoy.

In this post, we want to highlight a stark choice all of us face every day–Beautify vs Uglify. (You may have noticed that the image we selected does not show two equally bright paths.)

Business has the potential to beautify the world–or uglify it (yes, that is actually a word).  We like a quote from the late Barbara Bush about how we should approach life:

And as you go, find a way to make this world more beautiful.

The Two Choices: Beautify or Uglify

Everything we do–particularly every human interaction–can only do one of two things: (1) make the world at least a tiny bit more beautiful, or (2) make the world at least a tiny bit uglier.  (Neutrality is a possibility, but missing an opportunity to beautify isn’t beautiful).

“Beautiful” was clearly God’s design when he created everything and declared it “very good”:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

As you read the description of the New Jerusalem that is coming–God’s Kingdom on earth–in Revelation 21:10-11, “beautiful” is the word that comes to mind:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

In between the beauty of a garden and the beauty of a gleaming city, God blessed us and left us with a command–the “Creation Mandate”:

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. (Genesis 1:28)

God made us in God’s creative, productive and relational image (Imago Dei), gave us a perfectly imperfect world, and then told us to take care of it and make it flourish–make it even more beautiful!  We believe it is a call to create with beauty.

In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller says that with the Creation Mandate, God was “commissioning workers to carry on his work“.  Keller goes on to explain:

The word “subdue” indicates that, though all God had made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor.

We are called to stand in for God here in the world, exercising stewardship over the rest of creation in his place as his vice-regents. We share in doing the things that God has done in creation—bringing order out of chaos, creatively building a civilization out of the material of physical and human nature, caring for all that God has made. This is a major part of what we were created to be.

So, we were created to create, and everything we do–every human interaction–either brings the world a tiny bit closer to, or a tiny bit further from, God’s design and command.

By its very nature, business can add to the beauty of the world by “repairing” brokenness in the world, creating solutions to challenges of human life, creating economic prosperity that makes those solutions affordable and accessible, and creating jobs that allow people to fulfill their humanity and purpose by using their God-given creativity and productivity to serve others.

How are we doing through business?  We have certainly brought the garden much closer to a great city, but our beautification has been mixed with, and tarnished by, plenty of uglification (yes, that is apparently also a real word).

In looking at our beautification/uglification performance, it is helpful to distinguish two ways of doing the business of creating.  One is business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world.”  The other we call business a better way — business according to Biblical beliefs, principles, and priorities. It’s the way God means business to further creation in a beautiful way.

Every business leader must ultimately choose between these kingdoms.

Uglification Through Business As Usual

There are several key attributes of business as usual that set it at odds with God’s Kingdom (such as assumptions of scarcity and self-interest and “can we” ethics rather than “should we” ethics), but the most important is its essential WHY — the ultimate purpose that drives the behavior of its participants. With business as usual the WHY of the business is profit (thank you Milton Friedman).

To be clear, profit is not bad. Profit in a business is necessary for sustainability, which means it is necessary for good stewardship of the business, which means it is necessary for the Creation Mandate, which in turn means it is necessary for business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.

Profit is not bad just like money is not the root of all evil.  It is the love of money that the Bible tells us is the root of all evil.  Like money, profit becomes bad when it moves from being a tool toward achieving a business’ purpose to becoming its purpose–becoming an idol.

Like a person, an organization can have only one ultimate ambition or identity — one true “heart” (recall Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters”). If profit is the “end” to which a business is managed, then, by definition, people and the rest of God’s creation can never be more than “means” — tools of production to be managed toward that end.

As a consequence, business as usual often brings the inherent “beauty-potential” of business (“repair”, solutions, prosperity and jobs) with an ugly cost to God’s creation, particularly people.

When profit is the “end” of the organization and “creation” is the means, that ugly cost may be reflected in dehumanizing treatment of people and in irresponsible stewardship of non-financial capital such as natural capital, social capital and human capital.  Moreover, organizational cultures that are broken through toxic business as usual assumptions and motivations lead to “work” in those cultures becoming something far from God’s good and live-giving design in Genesis.

Recent studies suggest that only 10% of workers in the United States feel “engaged” and aligned with their company’s mission—experiencing an essential part of their humanity.  The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization.  Gallup recently reported that worker engagement in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since 2013.

Despite the “good” of “repairs”, solutions, prosperity, and jobs, business as usual uglifies the world by moving it further from God’s design.

And as you go, find a way to make this world more beautiful. (Barbara Bush)

Beautification Through Business A Better Way

Business a better way is focused on glorifying God by maximizing flourishing of God’s creation–putting creation, particularly people, as the end and profit in its proper place as a means.

An organization faithfully aligning its business with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities will seek to create with beauty by lovingly and generously serving people and stewarding all creation:

• Humanizing people through jobs that allow them to live out Imago Dei as reflections of a creative, productive, and relational God and use their God-given gifts to love their neighbor through service, all in a work culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community, and human dignity.

• “Repairing” the world and creating and providing, on a sustainable basis, solutions to challenges of human life and the economic prosperity that makes those solutions affordable and accessible, enabling families, communities and the world to flourish.

• Stewarding the business, as part of creation, in a way that keeps it viable so that it can pursue its human flourishing purpose(s) long-term and, where appropriate, at greater scale.

That is beautifying the world by moving it closer to God’s design.  It is answering the call to create with beauty by stewarding the gift of a business in obedience to the Creation Mandate and the two great commandments and in furtherance of the ultimate purpose of all creation—glorifying God.

ESSENCE: Business has the potential to beautify the world–or uglify it.  “Beautiful” was clearly God’s design when he created everything and declared it “very good”, and “beautiful” is the word that comes to mind as you read the description of the New Jerusalem that is coming–God’s Kingdom on earth. In between the beauty of a garden and the beauty of a gleaming city, God blessed us and left us with a command–the “Creation Mandate”. We believe it is a call to create with beauty. With profit as its “end”, business as usual often brings the inherent “beauty-potential” of business (“repairs”, solutions, prosperity and jobs) with an ugly cost to God’s creation, particularly people.  Business a better way is focused on glorifying God by maximizing flourishing of God’s creation–putting creation, particularly people, as the end and profit in its proper place as a means.  It is answering the call to create with beauty by stewarding the gift of a business in obedience to the Creation Mandate and the two great commandments and in furtherance of the ultimate purpose of all creation—glorifying God.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash (photo cropped and edited)