Sabbath as Earth-Keeping
Written by Quek Tze-Ming
Ps Dev started this year with reflections on the importance of Sabbath and rest. I’d like to share about how Sabbath relates to the present environmental crisis. In many ways, Sabbath-keeping is earth-keeping.
First, Sabbath-keeping helps us look around. The creation account in Genesis 1 tells us that God did not just create humans, he created a whole ecosystem for human (and non-human) flourishing. Creation has Sabbath built into its intricate system. So, just as the human body suffers if it lacks appropriate and timely rest, all creation suffers if rest is taken out of its interconnected system. Creation is not operating the way it was meant to (climate change, species loss), because humans have been abusing and misusing it as selfish consumers rather than caring stewards. We do not cease in our restless overconsumption and so creation gets no rest and is exhausted.
Practising Sabbath makes us follow God – when he rested on the seventh day – in delighting in what he has made. On Sabbath we cease from using or exploiting non-human creation. Instead we immerse ourselves in, and cherish God’s intricate, interconnected, good creation, of which we are a part, as stewards and carers.
Secondly, Sabbath-keeping helps us to look up. And when we look up we see God, not our own image. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein …” (Ps 24:1, ESV). Creation’s Lord is our God, and not us.
Practising Sabbath reminds us that the world gets on fine even when we cease from work, because God is the one who sustains it. We are reminded of our humanity – dependent like the rest of creation on God – as we hand authority back to the One to whom it truly and already belongs. We are also freed from the crushing burden of “saving the earth,” even as we advocate for creation care, because our ultimate hope is not on human endeavour but on God’s work. Finally, Sabbath-keeping helps us to look forward. Sabbath is a picture of the final rest which is the culmination and fulfilment of God’s saving work in Christ, in reconciling all things in heaven and on earth to himself (Heb 4, Col 1:20). Paul makes the point that all creation has that forward look, a yearning for that Day when it “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom
of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21, ESV).
Practising Sabbath is a foretaste of that final Day, when we with all creation will no longer be groaning, but rejoicing in the birth of the new heavens and new earth.
In a world with constant pressure to do more, how are we all doing less (Sabbath) for God’s coming new creation?[A version of this appears in God’s Gardeners: Creation Care Stories from Singapore and Malaysia; co-edited by our member Melissa Ong, and available at https://graceworks.com.sg/store/category/stories-and-testimonies/gods-gardeners-creation-care-stories-from-singapore-and-malaysia/]