I recently read a fascinating piece on the creation story in Genesis 1 & 2 related to the different ways that those who are Christian and those who are Jewish read these same verses. The point being made was that Christians generally read the initial verses of Genesis with the creation of human beings on the sixth day as the high water mark or apex of the story. Of course, there is good reason for this for focusing on this part of the story allows us to reaffirm that human beings are made by God and in the image of God.
Yet, what the same writer pointed out is that the Jewish perspective on the creation story is to see the seventh day and God’s choice to create a sabbath as the high point or the apex of the story. According to this writer, in Jewish thought everything in the story is moving toward the institution of a sabbath.
Now, when we talk about the sabbath, we must be clear that as scripture advances, what it means to keep the sabbath changes too. Over the course of scripture, sabbath keeping becomes a time for rest from our work and as a result freedom from our work to worship. Likewise, as we reach the later New Testament, keeping the sabbath also evolves for Christians to be about keeping the first day of the week, the Day of Christ’s resurrection, and no longer the seventh day of the week or Saturday which of course was the traditional day for rest and worship that the Jewish people had always set aside in keeping with the creation account.
Nonetheless, despite how the sabbath has changed and despite where we put our emphasis on all that Sabbath keeping involves today, it is crucial for us to see the seventh day of Creation where God rested as a very, very important part of how we think both about our own balance of work and rest. Like all of these subjects we are focusing on in June, I certainly believe that when we allow scripture to permeate the very fiber of our being and when we allow the text to be the lens through which we view our work we are gifted with new eyes for seeing what it means to look at our work in the right way.
So, how do these verses from the beginning of Genesis 2 and these verses in light of the larger creation story in Genesis 1 help us to see our work in the right way? Let me mention two ideas very quickly
First, we are able to rest when we are able to see the work that we do as being good work. There is a real practical lesson in the creation story that it is easy to overlook. At the conclusion of each of the six days in which God created, God reached the end of the day and deemed the work that had been done as good. God was evidently satisfied with both the quality and type of work that had been accomplished. God’s rest, in turn followed on the heels of and was aided by God’s satisfaction.
Perhaps this is something we need to recognize which is to say that there is a connection between both our feeling that we have done our best and that our work is meaningful or satisfying and our ability to rest. Like God, we are able to rest when we feel that our work is good. Like God, we can rest when we find personal satisfaction that the type of work we have done offers meaning in our lives and in our world.
Now, sometimes it certainly isn’t that easy. Sometimes we have little satisfaction in what we do. Sometimes we don’t feel real good about the quality of our work. This happens because in life at times we just don’t have a choice. At times we have limited options for work and at times we simply have to take the job available in order to care for our family. This is just the way life unfolds on many occasions and I want to acknowledge that.
Yet, I do want to encourage all of us not to be satisfied. If we can’t say that our work is good and thus we struggle to find the ability to rest well in our work because we either know we are not doing our best or because we don’t get any satisfaction in what we are doing then let us pray, be open and watchful. Let us have a deep yearning to find the life that we want and where we can be most useful to God.
Further, let me say that if we are retired and we have to admit that we don’t feel good or satisfied in our days, that maybe there is still something left that God wants us to do too. It doesn’t have to be professional it could easily be as a volunteer.
So much of our time is spent in our working lives. Thus, we must use these days wisely. I like the way that Judson Edwards, the Christian writer, said it when he remarked that life is most meaningful when “our role and our soul” are in agreement with each other. When this happens, rest often follows.
Second, we are able to rest when our work is not our primary identity. When we think about God, we certainly refer to God as the creator. And, to further this idea, part of good Christian theology is to say that God is continually in the creation business. God’s creative role didn’t end in Genesis, instead it continues in new ways even today. But, God is much more than creator, God is redeemer, friend, sustainer and on and on the list goes. I say that to say this, one of the reasons God was able to rest from the creative task is because it was simply a part not all of who God is.
Yes, work and our profession is a big part of our lives. But, it does not define us. Our roles as parents, children, Christians, friends, etc, are just as much a part of our identity and I would argue a bigger part of our identity. It has been said before and it is true, when we leave our job, the work will go on and they will get someone to replace us much more rapidly than we think.
It reminds me of the story of the manager and his sales rep who were one day looking at a map of their region. The map had a red push pin indicating each town where one of their sales reps was located. As they studied the map, the manager said, “Johnson, I am not happy. But, I am not going to fire you. But, I am going to loosen your pin just a little bit in order to emphasize the insecurity of your situation!?!” (Bits & Pieces, May 26, 1994, pg 9)
One day, they’ll find someone else to do our job. But, our children won’t get other parents, our parents won’t have other children and our friends may never replace our loyalty or our unconditional love.
Our ability to rest and rest well and our ability to keep our work in the right perspective is tied implicitly to our ability not to define ourselves by our work. As long as our primary sense of who we are is wrapped in what we do for a living, we will never rest well and we will never put our work in its right place. God reached the seventh day of the creative week, and God put the creative work to the side, God rested.
And so, let us do good work that is meaningful work but also work that is not all that we are but a part of who we are so that when the time comes, we too can rest. Amen.