I’m thankful God didn’t hire a twenty-first century consultant for the work of creation. It’s not difficult to imagine someone in a power suit and crisp tie looking over this ancient account of creation and going hurumpf as they look over the seven days. Sure, a modern businessperson might be fine with it at first. While God beholds the face of the deep, I can hear the consultant lavishing praise, “This is the real cutting edge of reality, God! Well done, you’ve got a really scalable opportunity here. It’s very marketable.” As God separates the light from the darkness making the sun and moon not just signs for seasons, but signifiers of day and night, sources of light, and fuel for plant life, the consultant praises God, “Wonderful synergy! The vertical integration here is impeccable.” When God places a dome in the sky to protect us from the stores of water above, the consultant smirks, “The best practice at work here is wonderful. This will really move the needle with key demographics that care about security.” While God was crafting animals, I imagine the mood might start to shift. “This ecosystem isn’t as tight and efficient anymore!” And when God creates humanity, it all falls apart. “Good Lord! You may want to punt on this issue,” the consultant says, “Low-hanging fruit might be more of a problem than a solution here.”
Of all the objections our consultant from the twenty-first century might have, though, it is the seventh day that would receive the most suspicion. With all the earth sprawled out before God and our consultant friend, God moves to finish the work God had done and the consultant might say, “Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. What are you doing? Isn’t there more to be done?” And as God goes down to rest from all the work of creation, the consultant shouts at God, “What are you doing?! Will we still be able to reach you?” Amused, I imagine God blessing and hallowing the seventh day just to make a point, ignoring the consultant’s objections: “There’s still so much room here for innovation! We can’t stop now! There’s no time to waste.”
God does not share this attitude about creation. God smiles on creation and calls it “good” and “very good.” God sees all that has been made and finds it sufficient, whole, and good. Yet this is not the message we receive on a daily basis. The first story in our Bible, though familiar to Christian and non-Christian alike, is not the story America tells about creation. Whether we are talking about the earth, the land, the animals, the seas, or even ourselves, the refrain is not “it is very good” but “it is not enough.” When it comes to farming the fertile land of the earth, we don’t call it “good” or “very good,” but not enough. We don’t let the land rest but farm it over and over and douse it with chemicals to make it produce more than it can bear. “Not enough.” When we go to the grocery, we want ripe tomatoes, rich sweet potatoes, and crisp apples all year round instead of taking what the season has to offer. “Not enough.” When it comes to our own work and labor, we have to-do lists longer than some books, hours that far exceed our job descriptions, or job descriptions that far exceed our capabilities. We have more homework than is possible, more reports than are manageable, and more work than can be done. “Not enough.”
Let’s be clear, this isn’t entirely our fault. We do this whether we want to or not. Employers, school systems, politicians, and corporate bosses ensure we cannot say “very good” about anything in our lives. They force us to admit that it’s “not enough” even if we somehow believe it is. That happens because our world believes a different story than the one we find at the beginning of our Bibles. Instead of the Gospel of Creation, our world believes a different gospel, the Gospel of Production.
“Not enough” is the motto of the Gospel of Production. The Gospel of Production says we always need more than we have and it needs more than we can give. The Gospel of Production says that the earth can always give more than it has already given. The Gospel of Production says that you can give more than you have already given. The Gospel of Production says we must always be available to produce, always with a phone by our sides. The Gospel of Production says we cannot leave anything undone – all work is top priority. The Gospel of Production sees everything as object or resource. The earth is a resource to be mined – our forests, fields, and water are only there for use and production. We, too, as people, are only resources. We are nothing more than means of production, machines to be put to work. Even time is a recourse that must not be wasted and must be well-spent. The Gospel of Production finds any stoppage of work to be wasteful – even sinful. The Gospel of Production tries to convince us this is all good news by wrapping it up in glitz, glamor, and gold, wrapping it up in material goods that numb us like drugs from the pain of constant labor. The Gospel of Production then turns around and demands we ruin our lives with incessant noise, work, and production so that our children can do the exact same thing for their children, and them for their children, and them for their children.
To the Gospel of Production, the Gospel of Creation is heresy. The seventh day in particular is downright wrong. Abraham Heschel, a great twentieth-century Jewish teacher, says that when the Romans encounter the Jewish people for the first time, the Romans had nothing for the Sabbath but contempt. The Gospel of Production, too, has to hate the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest, because it threatens to expose all the lies of the Gospel of Production. The Gospel of Creation has within it freedom and liberation; the Gospel in Sabbath is freedom from the anxiety of work, the anxiety of production. The Sabbath wants to set us free from the Gospel of Production.
Where the Gospel of Production treats us as resources and everything else as “not enough,” Sabbath, this seventh day of creation, tells us something else. Sabbath tells us that both people and the planet have God-given limits. We can’t produce all the time. The seventh day tells us that God did not make the earth or its people just to do work. We are meant for more than that. The day of rest tells us that both people and planet are very good – that they both are enough. The stoppage of work that the seventh day demands tells us that God has already made the world – and us! – and we don’t need to – and can’t! – do it ourselves. We can’t acknowledge the truths Sabbath tries to tell us, because the Gospel of Production has taken us captive.
The new Wonder Woman movie has a great illustration of this captivity. This is at the beginning of the movie – so, no spoilers! When Steve Trevor, an American, crash lands on an island that has existed separately from the rest of the world for thousands of years, the inhabitants are perplexed by him. At one point the main character, Diana, observes Steve’s watch. Diana and her people have lived apart from humanity for thousands of years, so she has no idea what this little device is. When she asks, Steve replies matter-of-fact, “It’s a watch,” and he explains, “It tells time. It tells me when to work, when to eat, when to sleep, when to get up. All those things.” Diana gives him a quizzical look and remarks, “Why do you let such a little thing have so much power over you?” Obviously, the watch doesn’t exert power over Steve in the usual way – it doesn’t literally make him do things. But it sure seems to! In the same way, we obey our clocks, calendars, and schedules like they are marching orders. Our priorities are dictated by schedules and the rest we do or do not get is decided by our work.
Sabbath aims to set us free from our watches. The Sabbath wants to free us from the obligation and expectation that we have to constantly produce, to constantly work. God’s Gospel of Creation, especially in the Sabbath, wants to tell us the truth about ourselves where the Gospel of Production has lied to us. Sabbath wants us to know we are more than what we make. Sabbath wants us to know that it’s OK if not everything gets done all the time. Sabbath wants us to know that the world has already been made.
Setting aside a whole day of rest seems impossible – both because we believe the Gospel of Production and because we don’t know how to rest. The objections to God’s seventh day rest are almost guttural. They come readily to our lips. WHAT ABOUT ALL THE THINGS?! What about soccer practice, the HOA, the errands, the extra-curriculars? What about everything? It seems so impossible, we find Sabbath almost revolting. We don’t want anything to do with it. The Gospel of Production teaches us that Sabbath is impossible, so impossible that we act like the Romans did – with disgust! We see Sabbath as an unattainable luxury, an irrelevant commandment, or holier-than-thou piety.
Some objections are true! The Gospel of Production doesn’t let us take Sabbath! We live in a world that doesn’t have room for it. To cease production, to stop working, is sin according to the Gospel of Production. Because we live and breathe this false gospel, Sabbath sounds at best unrealistic and at worst irresponsible. To step away from things like sports, boards, or other commitments sounds like sacrifice. But it’s actually the opposite! Heschel, the Jewish theologian from earlier, reminds us that the Sabbath wasn’t made for the rest of the week, the rest of the week was made for the Sabbath. When we crowd out a day of rest with other activities, we have sacrificed – or someone has made us sacrifice! – a part of ourselves, a gift that God has given us.
Even when we are able to carve out time for Sabbath to live in our midst, we don’t do it well. We don’t know how to rest. We think we need to travel more. We think we need to go to the beach or the mountains for vacation. We need to add a recreational activity or some extra fun thing to our lives. These things are well and good things to have – but they are not rest! These things are leisure. They are what we might call fun work, but they are still work. We can take time off, we can vacate our commitments, and we can cut ourselves off from all we want, but eventually life will still catch up to us and we’ll wonder why we’re still so rest-less. The Gospel of Production gives us a great many things we think are restful, but at the end of the day they won’t help.
Peppering the year with vacations and getaways is not Sabbath. It’s not substitute for the regular practice of abstaining from work. Sabbath is the regular realization that we are not unlimited and all-powerful. Sabbath is the acknowledgement that we have limits and we shouldn’t try to do everything. Sabbath is stopping and realizing that our worth does not come from what we make or what we possess or where we go.
Rabbis have often said – and I keep quoting the rabbis and Jewish teachers because we Christians often forget all this – that the Sabbath is the foundation of everything. Sabbath rest is the foundation of justice, of compassion, even of love. What I believe they mean by this is that in practice of Sabbath, in really resting, we remember those core truths of the Gospel of Creation that the Gospel of Production tries to hide from us:
You are more than what you make.
The earth is enough.
The world has already been made.
If we always remembered those things through the regular practice of Sabbath, we wouldn’t do so many harmful things. We would give the earth the Sabbath rest it needs. We wouldn’t pillage it for resources but try to live in harmony with it. We wouldn’t work ourselves to death, because we would know we can’t do it all. We wouldn’t make others work all the time because we would see that they too need Sabbath. Social justice, saving the environment, loving your neighbor, all have some biblical basis in the Sabbath. When we don’t keep it, it’s really easy to ignore everything else, too!
Those are all good words, but I like practice more than theory. What can Sabbath look like for us? How can we let Sabbath back into our lives?
If you’re a parent or guardian, consider figuring out an activity or commitment your kids can drop to give some more space for rest.
If you’re a worker who can do it, establish some limits where work cannot reach you. Carve out time where work happens and where it can wait.
If you’re an employer, make sure all your employees have some days set aside for rest. And make sure they can afford those days of rest by paying them a good wage.
In general, set boundaries around labor and boundaries around rest – for you and for the rest of God’s creation. The Gospel of Production hates these boundaries because they are the way Sabbath liberates us. You can start small – turn off the work phone when you get home at night. Eat dinner around a table without technology. Buy in-season food instead of whatever we can. Pray together at the end of every day. Use less plastic so the earth doesn’t work so hard. Talk about your lives on Sunday afternoons instead of rushing to the next activity. Conserve water and don’t waste food. You don’t have to achieve Sabbath. You don’t have to be successful in setting aside a whole day immediately. Sabbath is a gift, not a goal. Jesus reminds us that the Sabbath was made for us, not we for the Sabbath. It’s a blessing to be enjoyed, not a curse to endure.
Sabbath is a time for re-creation. God creates Sabbath on the seventh day for us to come closer to who we were made to be, for the earth to be all it was made to be. In recognizing our limits with Sabbath, we see who we really are, who God really made us to be. That kind of re-creation cannot happen when we are doing all the work, when we’re working all the time. Peter of Celles, a Christian in the twelfth century, remarked once that “God works in us when we rest in God.” We cannot expect to grow in our relationship with God, to become disciples of Christ, if we do not rest. We have to set aside time for the transformation Sabbath provides.
Whatever you do to let Sabbath return to your life and the life of the whole earth, remember the truth of Creation:
You are more than what you make.
The earth is enough.
The world has already been made.