God’s command to rest– a costly command

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It was easier to follow the Sabbath in the pre-modern era.  Up until recently, it was an almost universal practice to keep the Sabbath holy. Even the political governments followed the same workweek schedule.

Now, however, it is the shortage of full-time jobs with adequate pay and the “entangling demands of a networked world”[1] that have robbed us of a refreshing, and sometimes life-saving, Sabbath.

With its relentless demands of globalization and the constant chatter of the information age that overwhelms the rhythm of what was considered “the good old days,” our 24/7 socio-economical society is robbing us of any free time the Industrial Age had provided us.

The 40-hour work week became the standard decades ago, with the labor department ensuring time-and-a-half pay for hours worked “overtime”. But now it is harder to find good-paying full-time work. It is the threat of part-time and contract labor that is causing people to work more and more hours at lower wages.[2]

The War against rest” by Benjamin J. Dueholm quotes data from a Pacific Standard article titled “Are Sundays Dying?” which states that religious observances, socializing, eating at home, and even sleep, had all declined on Sundays from 1981 to 2005.

What is stealing these last vestiges of repose? The article says that it is work. During these same twenty-four years, time spent working increased dramatically. Youth sports leagues and work schedules have now replaced sleeping in and reading the Sunday paper as competitors to Sunday worship.

There has been a revival of interest in Sabbath observance in America, Dueholm states, but he says its focus is mostly on the family, the home, and the church community. He states that Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance (2014) “calls on Christians to resist the ‘seductions’ of an exploitative world ‘by discipline, by resolve, by baptism, by Eucharist, and by passion.’” Dueholm is grateful for this renewal of sabbath piety, but feels there is a need for direct engagement with Sabbath politics.  [3]

It may be that recreation and sports tempts us from faithfulness to the third commandment, but according to Dueholm, “Commerce and work, and the political power that gathers around them, are eroding the concept of sabbath – of divinely ordained rest – in every aspect of life.”[4]

He argues that the erosion of idleness is taking place just beneath the surface of some of the United States’ policy debates over work, salary, family, and retirement.

He writes that the debate regarding the raising of the minimum wage is in the end really about whether workers should be allowed time for anything but work since one must work more than 40 hours a week to provide basic necessities of life if they’re paid current minimum wages.

He reports that many who are against the increase in the minimum wage assume that most minimum-wage workers are young, work part-time, and still depend on their parents for health insurance and housing. In actuality 28 percent of those relying on minimum-wage work have children, nine out of ten are over the age of 20, and more than 50 percent work full time.

Another situation that is growing within the U. S. workforce is the number of contract laborers, exempt salaried employees, freelancers, the self-employed, and the adjunct. One source estimates one-third of the U.S. workforce works partly on a freelance basis.

Some employers improperly classify workers as independent contractors in an effort to avoid paying payroll taxes and benefits.

The fact that the price of labor is allowed to fall below the cost of the necessities of life goes against the ethics of the Old Testament[5]

Dueholm also believes that the “war on leisure” is also shaping family policy as well. Business groups have been lobbying against local and state laws that provided paid sick leave to workers, and in particular, have killed the 2013 congressional bill that would have provided up to 12 weeks parental leave and partially paid medical.

Currently, the United States is the only developed country that does not provide a guarantee of paid parental leave to workers.[6]

Again, Dueholm sites that the Affordable Care Act has been shaped by the conviction that work, rather than family, is an end in itself. “When the Congressional Budget Office found that the ACA’s subsidies for individual health insurance would allow some people to work fewer hours or even retire without waiting till they were eligible for Medicare, opponents cited this as evidence of ‘job loss’.”[7]

In actuality, this was not proof of job loss; instead, it was evidence of freedom from having to stay at work to receive health care. It allowed people to retire earlier, take care of family, or just relax rather than having to work to keep an insurance plan or to help pay health care premiums.

What goes hand in hand with this is how retirement is also under attack. Even President Obama has continually offered new ways to calculate Social Security benefits that would actually, over time, reduce retirement income substantially to middle- and lower-income citizens. People must continue working if retirement benefits are no longer available.[8]

When people are working it leads to greater economic growth. If they are retired, sleeping, or singing in the church choir, are not doing anything to increase the Gross Domestic Product.

God’s command to rest is a costly command. There are spiritual and cultural benefits that come from honoring time and life, but unfortunately, at a dollar and cents cost that our politics don’t recognize as a benefit.[9]

[1] Sherman, “Reclaimed by Sabbath Rest,”38.

[2] Dueholm, Benjamin J. 2014. “The war against rest: Sabbath piety and Sabbath politics.” The Christian Century 131, no. 24: 22-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 31, 2016), 22, 23.




[3] Dueholm,”The war against rest: Sabbath piety and Sabbath politics,” 22.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid., 22,23.

[6] Ibid., 23.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9] Ibid., 24.