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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

09 April, 2010

The Sabbath Was Made for Man

As an Adventist, the Sabbath is a crucial part of my life. It is a respite from the stresses of the week, an excuse to spend time with God instead of doing work. But that's only now that I'm an old and grey 20-year-old. When I was a kid, it came with a long list of don'ts and meant soup, Church, and boredom. At the Post-Vespers small group meeting on Good Friday, we discussed the motives involved, and tried to come to some kind of understanding as to what keeping the Sabbath actually means.

Let's start with the core Adventist doctrine of the Sabbath, Fundamental Belief #20. God rested on the 7th day and made it holy (or set aside). It was a memorial of Creation, a time for Him to spend special time with His children Adam and Eve. Jesus kept the Sabbath, even in death. Yes, He healed on the Sabbath, and yes, He picked grain on the Sabbath. But when criticized, he responded, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. I'd always heard that text, but not really known what it meant until I did some thinking. I'll get more into that in a moment, but first, allow me to rag on the Pharisaical (yes, I said it) Sabbath-keeping of many Adventists.

The biggest argument I have here is with the usage (not interpretation) of Isaiah 58:13-14, the famous "Turn away your foot from the Sabbath" text. I've heard many an Adventist use this text to bar people from doing certain acts on the Sabbath: everything from swimming to sports to playing Fallout 3. Talking about don'ts makes the Sabbath very limiting and tends to repel younger Adventists. The particularly repelling don'ts in my mind:
  • Don't go swimming
  • Don't watch secular movies, play secular board or video games
  • Don't play sports
  • Don't go out to eat
  • Don't cook
  • Don't read anything secular
  • Don't play card games (except for Trees and Flowers, Birds and Animals, etc.)
When we are told what we can't do, but not what we can, it tends to make the Sabbath less favorable. When we are kids, we can't quite understand the kind of personal relationship with God that I now take so much delight in. Yes, it's good to teach kids not to break the Sabbath, but many times parents nap while the kids die of boredom. They don't provide any alternatives. And when that happens, when nobody tells us what we can do, it becomes an even bigger day of don'ts.

So let's go over what should be done on the Sabbath. In my experience, there is no definitive answer. We go to Sabbath School and Church every week, and we eat lunch, be it at potluck or at home, either early- or mid-afternoon. But the sanctioned Sabbath activities aren't really clearly defined. The only blatantly encouraged things that come to mind:
  • Nature hikes
  • Bible reading
  • Devotional book reading
  • Sit around or sleep

What's going on here? Why are there so few dos and so many don'ts? Are we so concerned with breaking the Sabbath that we care only about what not to do? That's why I compare us to the Pharisees. They yelled at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and for picking grain on the Sabbath. Then Jesus tore them a new one. He said, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. What does this mean? Well, it seems to me like Jesus is saying that the rules for Sabbath keeping are more lax than the Pharisees made them out to be.

Let's not say that we can take this to mean that we can do whatever we want on the Sabbath. It's not that at all. Instead He was making a statement, which I shall paraphrase, "Hey! I was hungry, so I decided to eat something. Where's the problem with that? The Sabbath is not about what you shouldn't do, but rather what you should." The original purpose of the Sabbath, as stated earlier, was for God to spend time with Adam and Eve. Nowadays, I think a lot of people view it as a time to contemplate God, Jesus, and the Cross. But I don't think it's really even about that. It's about taking five and spending time with God, not because he wants us to do something with Him, but rather that He wants to do something with us. Remember the wonderful thought in 1 John 3:1 - "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we are called children of God!" It makes me come to tears thinkin about it, that the most powerful Being in existence calls us His children! And he's proud to do it, too! Just think of the parable of the prodigal son. When he came back, his father threw a party and killed the fattened calf, something he was saving for a special occasion feast. God is like that with us - every time we turn away and do our own thing, and then see that the world has nothing for us, He will always take us back. Sabbath is a time to return to God, the One that loves us more than life itself, so that He can see us again, and so that we can visit with Him. I'll talk more about this personal God next time.

Your Brother in Christ,

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