Seeing Rest As A Gift (and not feeling guilty about it)

Musings On The Practice Of Keeping A Sabbath (Part 1 Of A 5-Part Series)

As a young teenager, I rarely ever went to a church service (except for maybe Easter Sunday). Looking back on it, I was not a Christian at the time, but neither that thought nor such a descriptive statement (“I was not a Christian”) would have ever occurred to me. It would have been more accurate to describe me as a “moralistic therapeutic deist”.

Moralistic therapeutic deism is the belief that combines a vague (and relativistic) responsibility to be moral, a quest for personal fulfillment and a belief that God is somewhat distant and unknowable, contradictorily coupled with the view that this supposedly distant and unknowable God can also be called upon in times of trouble whenever we decide that we need Him to act on our behalf.

As a precise example of this relativistic responsibility to be moral, I had somehow adopted the view that I could go to heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments. Now, since I didn’t read the Bible, I never bothered to consult the book of Exodus and learn what the Ten Commandments actually were. I knew one commandment was “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and I hadn’t broken that one, so I figured I was off to a good start.

Then, at the age of 15, I was on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts learning “to do my duty to God and my country…, [and] to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight”.[1] As teenagers, we were relishing the freedom of using language and humor that we hadn’t been allowed to use at home. We did have adult supervision and our actions were, in retrospect, relatively tame. Ironically, the most shocking thing I heard the entire trip came from our Scoutmaster. He challenged us one evening about the language we were so freely using: “A Boy Scout is supposed to be reverent, but you guys are taking the Lord’s name in vain, which is something we are commanded against doing in the Ten Commandments.” He was amazingly succinct, but I was stunned.

Since I’d never bothered to read the Ten Commandments for myself, I’d never actually learned the third commandment:

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. [Exodus 20:7 (ESV)]. My relativistic moralism (and the eternal hope that I presumed it gave me) had just taken a significant hit to its theological integrity concerning how to get to heaven.

In terms of repentance, I stopped taking the Lord’s name in vain right then and there and that event was a small spark that prompted a season in life of asking questions and wanting to learn more about God. It would be nearly two more years before someone would tell me about Jesus and how I needed to look to Him for mercy and trust in Him to reconcile me to His Heavenly Father (in contrast to any futile attempt on my own to earn God’s favor by any perceived moralistic goodness that I might possess).

* * * * * * *

Now, you could refer to this story as an abbreviated account of how I gave up my “moralistic therapeutic deism” and became a Christian. But my real reason for recounting this story is to draw attention to how little I really knew about the commandments of God. To be sure, we don’t keep the commandments to earn our salvation. That would be impossible. However, the Ten Commandments are a picture for how we are created. If we ignore the commandments of God, then we are ultimately harming ourselves as we neglect the very design for how we are to live in relationship with God and with each other.

So, to refer once more to the time when I was challenged about taking God’s name in vain when, at the time, I didn’t even know there was such a commandment, I want to suggest that we as Christians do something very similar by ignoring God’s commandment about keeping the Sabbath.

The matter of keeping a Sabbath is presumed by many to have come straight from Exodus 20. Indeed, in the giving of the Ten Commandments, God said:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV)].

However, in contrast to the other commandments, the keeping of the Sabbath predates the giving of the Ten Commandments. We see the Sabbath kept (by God) in Genesis 2:1-3. I spoke about this yesterday at Faith’s GrACE Gathering and I’ll pick up there this coming Sunday (and continue this blog next week). We sometimes associate the commandments with the concept of guilt (over how we fail to keep the commandments). That’s not my intent here.

Rather, I would suggest that we desperately need to reconsider the significance of the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is so prominent in the creation story, then it has a great deal to say to us about how we, as human beings made in the image of God, are designed to live.

Not only that, but we are all at great risk of tiring ourselves out. We look tired. We need rest. By God's design, we are created to have that gift of rest – every seven days. The question is, will we choose to avail ourselves of this gift that God gives to us? More to come….  


[1] Excerpt from “The Boy Scout Oath”