31st March 2017 | Dave Bookless | 1 comments

Sabbath for all creation

Sabbath has an image problem. For some it conveys Victorian strictness: starched uncomfortable clothes, ‘improving’ books, and long church services. Others may remember last-ditch campaigns to ‘Keep Sunday Special’ by preventing supermarkets opening. My wife spent childhood holidays in the Outer Hebrides where ultra-sabbatarianism meant that playing football or throwing a Frisbee on a Sunday were strictly taboo. Today, Sabbath often conveys overwhelmingly negative ideas: ‘Don’t do that … especially if it’s enjoyable!’

“Fallow”, by Nicholas A. Tonelli – Creative Commons BY-2.0

“Fallow”, by Nicholas A. Tonelli – Creative Commons BY-2.0


How far this is from God’s plans for Sabbath! It is meant to be a joyful celebration of the ‘very-goodness’ of all creation. I’ve recently been struck anew by the richness and relevance of the Sabbath for hectic and hurried humanity, for our oppressed fellow creatures, and for the exploited environment we all depend upon. After all, this is no marginal theme in the Bible. Sabbath is:

So, here I offer three positive Sabbath values that link God, humanity and the rest of creation. One important thing I’ve realized is that these Sabbath values are not only for one day per week, just as prayer isn’t only an activity to be performed at set times. They are meant to infuse the whole of our lives, bringing perspective, balance and shalom-peace into everyday life.

Rhythm: we’re immersed in a nonstop culture. Where I live in Southall there are 24-hour shops and traffic, and Robins sing at 3 am under streetlamps. More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities, often alienated from the natural rhythms of day and night, tides and seasons. Is this how God means it to be? In Genesis 2:1–3 we read that God finished his work on the seventh day, blessed it and made it holy. Most English translations say ‘God rested’, but God never tires, and the Hebrew term means ‘ceased from work’ rather than ‘took a rest’. God had no need to prepare for another working week: Earth 2.0! Rather, (highlighted by the fact that Day 7 alone is not completed with ‘there was morning and there was evening …’) God’s cessation from work is connected to being released from the tyranny of time. Time is something God made good as part of creation. Yet – like anything in creation − time can become an idol. It can control and master us. Perhaps you know the description of westerners as those with ‘God on their wrist’ … or smartphone? Sabbath celebrates kairos time rather than chronos time. It’s about pausing from our own timetables and connecting again with the God-given rhythms at the heart of creation. For me it means a regular rhythm of getting outdoors to walk, observe, listen and connect with God’s voice through creation.

Roots: Sabbath dethrones human beings from the arrogant assumption that we’re all God cares about. The Sabbath, not humanity, is the crown and culmination of God’s creation. We share Day 6 with baboons and bison and boa constrictors, but Day 7 is the day of blessing – the holy day – that completes and sanctifies creation. Sabbath celebrates physical creation, and roots us, as physical / spiritual unities, in the places God has planted us. As created beings we are related to and reliant upon the rest of creation. Sabbath helps us to know our place, and puts limits on our use of the earth, reminding us that we are dependent on God and earth for everything: manna and quail in the desert, a Sabbath rest each week and 7th year for land and creatures, a Jubilee for the Sabbath of Sabbaths (7×7+1) to help us respect the land and let it breathe. To farm over-intensively, to pour chemical insecticides and oil-based fertilizers into the living community of the soil is a form of idolatry, because it proclaims short-term profit is more important than long-term sustainability. Restraint is therefore a primary virtue for farmers, scientists and technologists. We are dealing with our, and earth’s, life-support system.

Renewal: Jesus rose from death on a Sunday, the first day of a new week, thereby initiating a new creation and renewing Sabbath as an anticipation of creation’s ultimate destiny, when all things will be made new. Those wonderful Old Testament visions of shalom, where wild animals and humans live in peaceable harmony and know God’s presence, are Sabbath visions. As one of my daughters used to say as a child, after a wonderful family experience: ‘This is how life is meant to be!’ Sabbath is a rediscovery of how God intends life to be, in all its beauty, diversity and fullness. It reorients us away from everyday priorities and lifts our hearts to God’s bigger vision when ‘the earth will be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14).

So, let’s reclaim a Sabbath for all creation. Let’s reconnect with the rhythms of God’s world – even in the city – and put down roots in the places we’re planted, living with restraint in good relationship with our fellow creatures. And let us rejoice in Sabbath as ‘a type of that eternal rest’ (John Ray, 1691) when all creation will be made new in Christ.

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Categories: Reflections
Tags: rest Sabbath
About Dave Bookless

Dave is Director of Theology for A Rocha International, where he works to embed creation care into international Christian organizations, theological institutions, and mission movements. His past roles with A Rocha include being an International Trustee and the co-founder of A Rocha UK (with his wife Anne). He has a PhD from Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation, and has contributed to many books and articles, including Planetwise, available in six languages. Born and raised in India, Dave has a love for Indian food, Indian culture and Indian Christianity. Dave is also a qualified bird-ringer and loves birding, islands, running and mountains.

View all posts by Dave Bookless (74)

One response to “Sabbath for all creation”

  1. Alan Turner-Smith says:

    Heaven as an eternal Sabbath – where Frisbee throwing is encouraged! A wonderful vision Dave. Thankyou for all your thoughts.

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