Excerpts on the Sabbath

While a theology undergrad, debates about the Sabbath would occasionally rear their head. For most of my life I had not attended many church services on Sundays and had almost always taken a good break from the week on Saturdays. This meant that I struggled to understand the potential significance of and contentious positions about the Sabbath. Here is not the place to go into the latter, mostly because it remains something I have not given much thought to. But in the years following college I have become increasingly convinced of the importance of resting, which possibly correlates with my aging. While I do not yet possess a firm position on the Sabbath, I do believe that important practical principles can be gleaned from it. Below are just a few that I have come across in my own reading.

Marilynne Robinson Firstly, in her essay titled Decline, from The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson contrasts the Sabbath with our capitalistic drive and economically regimented cultures. “The Sabbath has a way of doing just what it was meant to do, sheltering one day in seven from the demands of economics. Its benefits cannot be commercialized. Leisure, by way of contrast, is highly commercialized. But leisure is seldom more than a bit of time ransomed from habitual stress. Sabbath is a way of life, one long since gone from his country, of course, due to secularizing trends, which are really economic pressures that have excluded rest as an option, first of all from those most in need of it.”

Claire Diaz-OrtizSecondly, in Barna’s Greater Expectations, Claire Diaz-Ortiz quotes Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6 on the necessity of Sabbath practice for frenetic modern lives: “Just as the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, we have become slaves to our technology. Our technological tools allow 24-hour productivity and connectivity, give us more control, and subtly enslave us to busyness itself. Sabbath is about restraint, about intentionally not doing everything all the time just because we can. Setting aside a day of rest helps us reconnect with our Creator and find the peace of God that passes all understanding. The Sabbath is about letting go of the controls one day a week and letting God be God.” Whether it is a day or a couple of hours, the Sabbath calls us to give up productivity and trust God.

Bruce WaltkeThirdly, Bruce Waltke (in An Old Testament Theology) comments how time set apart for worship and reflection, allows us to do far more than rest. We were made for much more than dominion over our world by working in it; we are made for communion with God. “As human beings exert sovereignty over space and matter, which they build with and possess, the sanctification of time reminds them that there is something transcendent beyond matter and space. The critical moments are not the one spent building, possessing, and controlling, but the times set apart for quiet, reflection, meditation, and worship. Religious people who see Sabbath rest as a religious obligation miss its meaning”

Finally, let us conclude with Augustine, who concludes his Confessions by returning to that most famous point, ‘You made us tilted to toward you, so our heart is unstable until it stabilised in you’ (1.1.1). “This beautiful cosmos, made up of creatures, ‘eminently good,’ in their entirety, has an appointed course to run to its end — its dawn will have its dusk. But no dusk comes to the seventh day, its night will never fall, since you have made it holy and abide forever. You, who are always at rest, nonetheless ‘rested on the seventh day’ after completing your works — or so it is said in your Scripture, to signify that when we have completed our works, which were your works made ‘eminently good’ in us, we can rest with you on the eternal seventh day” (13.14.50-51).

Graham Heslop
I have an insatiable appetite for books, occasionaly dip into theology and am presently serving full time at Christ Church Umhlanga in Durban. Most often found on the beach, a soccer field, or my couch