Dorothy Sayers says that work is what we were put on earth to do.

And, personally, I want to agree with her. But supposing one accepts that definition of work, how then do we understand the Sabbath?

My hunch is that Sayers’ view actually exalts the Sabbath. If we see work as tedium and drudgery, then the Sabbath is simply recess. But if work is a good thing that we should draw joy and life from, then the Sabbath is much more than a recess. In his must-read book The Sabbath, Rabbi Heschel writes that we should consider the Sabbath in eschatological terms. For six days we work, but then the Sabbath is a rest, an anticipation of the World to Come. So we spend six days laboring toward that world and on the seventh we live as if it is already present.

My only reservation with the view is that the Sabbath is ordained pre-Fall, so it would seem that the work/Sabbath cycle is normative in creation, whether sin is present or not. With that reservation aside, however, I find Heschel’s idea very compelling.

So I’ll turn it over to the Mere O readers, assuming Sayers’ view of work is reasonably healthy, how then should we understand the Sabbath?

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and author of "In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World." He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

One Comment

  1. I think it’s just a struggle to balance between faith (ie. “rest”) and works. Works are the offering, faith is the altar. “The altar sanctifies the gift.” That is, faith is what gives work a much higher purpose, and a much deeper meaning; and work is what gives faith a chance to express itself.

    The Sabbath allows us to reflect on the invisible agencies that do the larger part in our daily work. A farmer might tend to think that his wheat crop was mostly a result of his labor, until he takes time (on the Sabbath) to reflect on the much larger part that God and His helpers play in making the crop grow: the power in the seed, the sunlight, the wind, the protection from natural disasters, the restoration of health every day to the farmer, etc. In a thousand ways God is working, but we tend to lose sight of Him during our busy days. On the Sabbath we gain a right focus again, and learn of the great workings of the invisible world on our behalf, without which we would quickly perish.

    The Sabbath also gives us focus on God: our work is not to build our own little independent world, but it is to build up His plan, and His way. He is the Father, we are the children. Our happiness consists in doing His will, and thus having the smile of His approval. On the Sabbath we have time to reflect on what His plan really is, and then build the next week according to that plan.

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