Sabbath Rest and Human Embodiment
*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: Sabbath Rest and Faith, Early Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 3), Early Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 2), Early Puritan Sabbatarians, Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi, Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 3), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? (Part 2), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Henry Bullinger on the Sabbath (Part 1), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 3), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 2), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 1), Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (Part 2), Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (part 1), Sabbath Typology and Eschatological Rest, Paul and the Sabbath, Jesus and the Sabbath, The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.
The previous post in this series on sabbath rest contained some of my thoughts regarding the necessity of faith and its relationship to rest. In this post I want to continue to think through some other personal implications of weekly sabbath rest being biblically prescribed. Specifically, I want to begin to answer the question “What does sabbath rest have to do with our human embodiment (or, theologically speaking, our anthropology)?” These are just the beginning ramblings of some ideas I am still working through, so I hope you will comment below with your thoughts.
Sabbath Rest and Physical Embodiment
The sabbath pattern also takes into account the embodied nature of our existence. By that I mean that physical rest is a human necessity because of the physical aspect of our being, and that weekly sabbath observance creates space for the regular and proper maintenance of human physical bodies.
Humans exist in created bodies that have limits. These limits are further exacerbated by the effects of the fall. To try and live as if one has no body (i.e., by refusing to accept the physical limitations inherent to our current existence) is to live in a state of self-deception. Ryken writes concerning this self-deception: “When people deceive themselves in this way they operate on the premise that their spiritual energy and service to God have nothing to do with their bodies.” He goes on to describe this way of life as “self-defeating” and heretical because of the clear biblical affirmation of the importance of our bodies in both the doctrines of creation and the resurrection of the body. Trying to live in a way that minimizes, ignores, or downright denies the physicality of human existence is a sure recipe for disaster. Weekly sabbath rest offers a physical break from work that human bodies need—some more than others—in order to maintain their health.
Those bible interpreters that teach that weekly sabbath rest has been fulfilled and therefore no longer necessary are guilty of downplaying, or completely ignoring, the embodied nature of our current human existence. They are guilty of, I contend, having an over-realized eschatology in the area of anthropology. Or, more simply, they are acting as if the full benefits of Christ’s work in this area (i.e., not growing weary, e.g., Isaiah 40:31) are already present. Instead, the rest found in Christ belongs in the realm of inaugurated eschatology (already/not yet). We already have found our spiritual rest in Christ, rest from the law’s condemnation and from striving to earn our own salvation, but our physical rest remains in our promised “better country” (Heb 11:16). Weekly rest gives us a taste of that better country, where God (in one sense) has been waiting since Genesis 2.
Human Embodiment and Final Rest
It is fitting that there be physical rest on the sabbath because of the physical nature of the final sabbath. Because our eternal state is a physical embodied state that is characterized by final rest, it makes sense that the temporary weekly sabbath rest pattern include a portion of physical rest as a weekly reminder of the eventual perpetual rest to come. The physicality of the weekly rest stands as a recurring reminder of the physical need for rest that our bodies currently possess, as well as the physicality of the promised rest to come. The Lord “knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14).
I hope that these brief reflections on our embodied nature and rest have been helpful for you. In the coming posts I hope to continue to think about a few more personal implications of weekly sabbath rest.
I am not saying that there are no non-physical benefits to weekly sabbath rest (e.g., spiritual, emotional, intellectual). I am merely emphasizing the physical benefits in this section.
Matthew Lee Anderson, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011), 68.
Wayne E. Oates, Your Right to Rest (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984), 25.
Ryken, Redeeming the Time, 208.
For more on sabbath, rest, heaven, and the final state, see: Campbell, On the First Day of the Week, 204–219.