Our Sabbath Work: Why we forgot how to rest

One of the downsides of Covid lockdown for me is that I am the family IT call to guy.  Not because I’m particularly clever with computers I hasten to add.  But I’m the one over the years that has taken the interest and responsibility for keeping us all plugged in and connected.  

And of course, working and studying from home, not to mention having our entertainment piped in on subscriber movie services, puts me in the hot seat when things go wrong with the network and equipment.  And things go wrong a lot in lockdown.  

My go to solution to ‘Why isn’t this stupid computer working?’ is to re-boot the machine.  Usually applied after a few minutes of trouble shooting the problem looking for the usual suspects.  

While not fool proof, it’s surprising how often the re-boot solution works.  Our machines frequently get confused and tangled in their operating protocols.  Re-booting often resolves the tangle.

The same week I had been running around the house being Mr Fix IT, I had my own malfunctioning.  

Too many things going wrong at work at the same time.  Too many late nights and weekends writing unfinished reports.  Too many unresolved emails flooding my inbox.  Too many meetings to sit in and phone calls to make.  

At the end of a long week, I tell a colleague I feel like I’m down to my last 10% of charge like the phone red battery icon warning me it’s about to run out of juice.  

And like my machines I need to defrag, re-boot, before I crash and burn.  For me this means putting my brain in neutral, vegging out in front of the TV, going for a long walk, reading a book, sleeping in – a human re-boot.

 Like machines, our bodies and brains need to shut down and rest in order to recharge and repair.  But is my human re-boot what God calls a Sabbath?  Is our hard wired need to rest the reason why God made the Sabbath? 

Why didn’t God make us so we can keep going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and not wear out?  

For many of us this has become our mantra.  “I’ll sleep when I die!”  We push ourselves to gain greater and greater efficiencies, so we can be more productive, get more done, make more money.  But, to what end?

When we do finally concede to a rest, we turn it into a well deserved holiday, a celebration of our success.  Isn’t this what we worked so hard for?  

Pop star Madonna recognised the contingency of ‘one day out’ of life to holiday by introducing the sentiment with ‘if.’  As in, “if only…’

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life (holiday)
It would be, it would be so nice

So why don’t we?  Take more time to celebrate, to holiday, to take one day out of life?  

Why?  Because we don’t know how to rest.  We only know how to work.  And even our work has become meaning-less.  

We have forgotten the reason why we work and rest.  In our neo liberal economies we work to make money.  And we can’t rest unless we have money to take a holiday.  And now we can’t even do that in lockdown.  But we can pretend.

A new Virgin TV ad campaign shows lock down travel junkies fantasising about catching a plane to escape.  On one ad, a man is wheeling his travel bag on a home gym treadmill dreaming its a moving walkway at the airport.  

You might not be able to fly away for a holiday escape right now.  But you can vax and maybe win Velocity frequent flyer points while in lock down to go towards flying later.1 

Have we forgotten that holiday derives from holy day?  That the weekend derives from the Sabbath.  That celebrate derives from worship – to praise God, to celebrate (holy) communion (the Eucharist).  

Such celebration necessitates sacrifice.  Our sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).  Giving up our own self congratulatory reward to give God his due.  Sacrifice is another alien concept which we have forgotten in our consumer, self invested economies and factories of desire.

We have forgotten the reason why we work and rest.  In our neo liberal economies we work to make money.  And we can’t rest unless we have money to take a holiday.  But now we can’t even do that in lockdown. 

If it was up to us and we had the technology, the know-how, we would push past the divine limits of our humanity, our God gifted restraints.  We would work 24/7 and sleep when we die.  

The rhythms of rest and Sabbath are built into nature as they are with us humans as part of creation.  

At this juncture of history, our technology, our machines mimic creation.  They need rest.  They need to de-frag, re-boot and cool down to rest.  But what if we could design machines that keep going without rest?  Could we?  And should we?

I can think of two reasons why we may struggle to build indefatigable machines.  Entropy is one.  Capitalism is another.  Let’s start with entropy.

Entropy

Machines break down and require maintenance.  This is true of the human-animal body, the mechanical machine and the digital algorithm.  Is it possible to make machines that keep going to the extent that such machines are self sustaining.  Could we make machines that keep going without maintenance, upgrades and replacement?

The short answer appears to be no.  Because of entropy in the world.  Disorder and chaos.  Machine parts rust and wear.  What about virtual machines however?  To the extent that a virtual machine (such as an algorithm) has to interact with other systems, it too will need to be maintained.  At two levels.

1. Virtual machines can’t exist meaningfully in a vacuum.  On the supply side they rely on physical machines to exist – computers and data centres.

2. On the demand side, machines rely ultimately on humans whom these machines serve.  And humans, if nothing else, are fickle.   Tastes and fashions change.  But so too does technology in the interest of ever changing improvement and efficiencies.  And let’s not forget the necessity of never ending software upgrades to defend ourselves against pirates and hackers from outside our networks. 

Thus, entropy invades all of creation and human invention.  There is no escaping the re-boot!

Capitalism

The second reason indefatigable machines are virtually impossible comes from Karl Marx’s insights into capitalism.  Capitalism must keep re-inventing itself; indeed, canabalizing itself in order to survive, to keep on keeping on.  

The wheels and cogs of production and consumption cannot be stopped without bringing the entire economic machinery to a grinding halt.

If we were to produce machines that never wore out, then as a consumer, I would never need to replace my current consumables. 

We all complain of fridges and washing machines breaking down and the cost of service call outs and eventual replacement, usually after 10 to 15 years of machine life if we’re lucky.

This redundancy isn’t just built into our machines but into our more durable consumables like furniture, clothes and houses. Such consumables become redundant long before they wear out.  

A primary cause for obsolescence is fashion.  Shelf life on furnishings and clothes could easily be tripled or more if not for the cultivation of taste through fashion.  

Why this incessant change and bleating to freshen things up and ‘get with the times’ if not for the need to keep the wheels of industry turning?

So lets accept for the moment that it is beyond us to produce indefatigable machines.  We are forced into the rhythms of obsolescence and consumption, deterioration and continuous improvement.  In short, entropy and capitalism – or if you like, invention.

But what about God?  If we believe in God.  Truly believe.  Why did God create us to wear out and die?  Why nature’s conspiracy to rob us progressively of youth as our animal cells replenish and reproduce imperfectly, dragging us closer to the grave with each celebratory birthday?

God could have made us perfect, indefatigable without all this fuss.  Is it too simplistic to blame original sin.  To say that it is our fault, or the fault of our fathers (not mothers because fathers carry the sperm of sin from Adam according to Saint Augustine).

What if God had made us perfect?  Would we then live in a frictionless world, without breakdown or entropy, conflict or disease?  Would that then mean we live in Utopia which is just another name for Hell.  (See my post, The End of Apocalypse, The Matrix, Žižik and Life After God, for why Utopia is Hell.) 

If this is all there was to life, then Sabbath would be work.  And we would become machines, slaves to our own idols.  But Sabbath is more than the interlude of the seventh day after six days of work. 

Jürgen Moltmann tells us in his book, God and Creation, “On the contrary:  the whole of creation was performed for the sake of the Sabbath.”  So the Sabbath precedes work – not the other way around in which we think of Sabbath as an afterthought, a day of rest following six days of labour.

In fact the Sabbath defines the reason we work.  It gives meaning to our existence.  It is intentionally non-utilitarian.  Sabbath is created for us as more than rest.  It is the feast of redemption.  The celebration of the joy of our existence in God.

The meaning of our life (is not meant to be) identified with work and busy activity.

Jürgen Moltmann

Until we understand that we don’t work for money and we don’t need money to holiday and play we will continue to forget how to rest.  And until we come to know the Lord of the Sabbath, we will never remember.  

 As long as we keep observing the Sabbath with work or as a life hack for re-booting our bodies from over work, we will keep forgetting the words of Jesus. ‘The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2:27 The Message) 


  1. https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-deals/virgin-australia-launches-vax-win-to-encourage-more-aussies-to-get-vaccinated-and-fly/news-story/602fab9798e92f6ecffe20a46b6be57f
  2. Jurgen Moltmann, (Translation by Margaret Kohl) God in Creation:  An ecological doctrine of creation, SCM Press, London, 1985, p276-7

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Categories: Culture, Money

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2 replies

  1. looking at the other side, Joel, for those who are on a permanent sabbath, in the fact that we don’t work and have all the worries of meeting, phone calls and work loan. We sometimes have to stop and evaluate our lives and the meaning thereof. I personally realize that i am a slave to consumerism and that it would be easy to throw away my electronic and analogue devices but i don’t. I need to look at the Sabbath in a new and informed way and stop looking for something to fill my day and just rest with God sometimes. I hope you personally, have found some peace among the rush of life and feel better for it. Another interesting blog and one that gets me thinking again, so thank you and goodnight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The article poses a really good question about our need to rest despite our inability to rest due to changes in society including our devices that are on call 24/7. Melbourne was the scene of Sabbatarianism where religious people felt that compulsion of employees to work on Sunday was a dereliction of religous duty. The Unions supported this action believing that a worker needed time out and public transport and museums and libraries shoulld be closed on Sunday. Like the article so clearly mentions – rest prevents burn out.
    Rest does entail cessation of our normal activity and for most disengagement is not easy as Monday with all its issues looms like a dark cloud over many when they attend church or take a break with the family. Yet God’s wisdom shows that for Christians the Sabbath is a day when we rest from our works and rely on Christ and his work and celebrate this great gift. Meditating on this great gift makes all else – all dark clouds – brighten as such issues pale into insignificance compared to how can a person be rigtheous before God. The Sabbath day puts the rest of the week into perspective. This is a great thought contained in the article – our minds directed by the Sabbath – directed to an attitude of gratitude for something we could never work towards just like physical creation is something only God could produce. In other words, life without the Lord and by extension the Sabbath to celebrate our union with the Lord would be one of despair – happiness and joy gradually taken away either by the vicissitudes of life or the incremental birthday by birthday depletion of our youth. The person next to me in my hospital ward was given the prognosis of his condition and his daughter said to him ” Well its not good news” and the man’s first response was that he wept. He wept because life as he knew it was over and it was the end. The finality of life because it is finite. Our bodies wear out because of disease or aging but for the Christian there is the hope that beyond this life is a place of eternal rest. The celebration of the Sabbath is a foretaste of that rest we enter and also a poignant reminder that our labour is but a short duration. What matters most is what our labour has produced – not as something to earn our right to rest – but an additional gift to honour the one who granted us the grace to both rest and labour for his glory.

    Liked by 1 person

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