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Work and Rest

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Work and restWhen he rested from his work of creation, God pronounced it very good. We should use our Sabbath rest to look back over the week’s work and take satisfaction in it.


The creation story of Genesis 1 is regularly interrupted with the comment ‘And God saw that it was good.’ This reaches a climax in Genesis 1:31: ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.’

The creation when completed was not just good; it was very good. God takes immense satisfaction in what he has done, delighting in the product of his ingenuity. The design entailed in God’s feat of cosmic architecture embodies a profound wisdom. Proverbs 8 expresses this by picturing wisdom as God’s master craftsman:

When he established the heavens, I was there,
…when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. (Proverbs  8:27-31)

This combination of joy and delight is deeply expectant. God delights in the human race at its beginning. The stage is set for an epic drama.

After the six ‘days’ of concentrated work, God rests. The first creation account ends: ‘And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation’ (Genesis 2:2-3). God sets a limit on his own creative activity. His work is not over; he is not like an absentee chairman on an indefinite holiday in the Bahamas. The main focus of his activity will shortly turn to the providential work of upholding the finite creatures he has made.

God rests not for his own benefit but because he wishes to confer his rest on us. God’s activity in creation is described as work, and he gives human beings plenty of work – purposeful productive activity – to do. As human beings made in the likeness of God we ‘image’ God by working. But there is a time for rest as well as for work, and God sets us an example in both.

Purpose of the Sabbath

That the sabbath rest is intended for us to emulate is affirmed twice in the Torah. The fourth commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy’, is grounded in the fact that ‘in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it’ (Exodus 20:8, 11). Deuteronomy 5:12-16 emphasises that the Israelites are to allow their slaves rest as well – mindful that they themselves were slaves in Egypt.

Taking a day of rest is important for many reasons. It allows us to worship God with fellow-believers, to spend time with family, to recover energy and to listen to what God is saying to us. Although it is not easy keeping the Sabbath in increasingly secularised societies where Sunday (the Christian form of Sabbath) has become a day like any other, shops and sport offering a seductive appeal, we ignore this God-ordained rhythm at our peril.

Taking Satisfaction

As part of this weekly pause, there is an important place for looking back over our work and taking satisfaction in it. Although work has frustrations, cul-de-sacs and failures, seeing the fruit of our labours brings genuine pleasure. If God’s example is anything to go by, we should feel free to enjoy that. Unfortunately, many of us work so hard that we do not pause to enjoy the completion of one assignment before we pass breathlessly on to the next.

John Lovatt, the managing director of a ceramics firm in the Potteries, has written these perceptive words:

The big moment for the development engineer is after the months of building to stand back, take a deep breath and press the green button. If it works (or rather, when it eventually works), it will of course be allowed to run for several minutes, whereas a few seconds were all that was strictly necessary, Those minutes of Sabbath rejoicing are not a luxury – they are an essential part of the creative process. There are many more examples of the Sabbath principle already in unconscious use in industry, and they should be recognised and encouraged. Farmers leaning over the gate chewing over the situation, salesmen opening the champagne to celebrate a large order, athletes releasing the tension by punching the air: all these complete the process, and bring the peace and contentment which is God’s gift of the Sabbath.[1]

Some might object that this period of reflecting on work well done is better assigned to Friday or Saturday evening rather than Sunday; God’s designation of his creation as ‘very good’ is located at the end of the sixth day. But when it happens is less important than that it happens at all. We may think we don’t have time for such a luxury, but it is actually crucial to our welfare. Sabbath rejoicing is a priceless principle for busy working people.

Excerpt from Faith, Hope & the Global Economy, pp.45-48


References

[1] John Lovatt, ‘Jesus in the Workplace: Towards a Better Theology of Work’,  MC (1992, Vol. XXXIV, No.2, p.14.)

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