“And Consider the Sabbath a Delight”

Of all the many sinful patterns of behavior that the American context is so good at highlighting, I think that the human desire to strive after divinity is one of the sneakier ones. In Genesis, from the beginning, the humans were tempted successfully by the serpent with the hope of ascertaining godliness. “If you eat the fruit, you will become like God . . .”

I’m convicted by one particular dimension of this striving: my inability to take seriously the Sabbath. One of the more countercultural dimensions of the Judeo-Christian faith, in both the ancient world and equally in the contemporary world, is the built-in necessity of rest. Humans, in general, seem to like to work all the time. My faith context proclaims that breaking from work is essential.

I’m amazed at how ingrained is the notion that resting equals laziness or insignificance. I often look admiringly at people who reveal how many balls they are juggling at once, and what they have to sacrifice to keep those balls in the air. “Oh, I don’t have a free day until September!” Wow! That person is significant!

I was reading Isaiah 58 (I’m currently working through Isaiah in my reading of Scripture), and it had an almost throw-away line: “and consider the Sabbath a delight.” Not simply take Sabbath seriously, but consider it a delight. When I do rest, I often do so begrudgingly. “I have so much I need to be getting done! But I’ll rest, I guess.”

One does not need to look far into the research to see the importance of adequate rest and detachment from work for human flourishing. We are not creatures that are built to work every minute of the day. Plus, we miss most of what life is really about if we are working all the time.

But also, as I said above, I would argue that the root of my desire to avoid rest is really grounded in a human desire to be god. To fail to take Sabbath seriously is to claim a certain level of divinity for myself. I, Atlas-like, have the whole world resting on my shoulders; if I take a break, it will all collapse. Being able to break from work, and being able to rest peacefully and to enjoy this good creation, seems to me to be one of the most significant ways to worship God. If I am able to stop from work, and to do so in confidence, I’m prophetically proclaiming to a culture built on nonstop work, nonstop production, nonstop consumption that I am not God, and that God is present.

I would love to get to the point where when someone might ask me, “What are you up to today?”, I could respond, with peace and joy, “Absolutely nothing!”