Towards a Biblical Rest Ethic

by Carlan

Though I am the seventh generation to be born in the US, I come from a fairly strong German heritage. The Wendlers didn't change their last name in WWI or WWII. Grandpa Wendler was 100% German as is Grandma Wendler. In fact, I am the first non-thoroughbred generation and the first to neither speak nor understand the German language. Though not particularly proud of Germany's propensity in the 20th Century to initiate global conflicts, there are several things I grew up feeling proud of in my patrimony. Who defeated Rome? Germans. Who kicked off the Reformation? A German. Who has the only growing GDP in Europe during the present economic crisis? Germany.

Time-discipline is quintessentially German. I can still remember my dad jingling the keys to get us out the door on Sunday mornings as we headed to church. (Not quite von Trapp family order, but being late was unacceptable.) Another "classically" German value was work ethic. Why was Germany able to dig out after losing two world wars? Hard workers. Why did East Germany bounce back from years of Soviet occupation within a decade? Hard workers. Why does Germany produce the best cars? Hard work. It seemed that working hard was supposed to be part of my genetic makeup.

By God's grace, I have had the opportunity in my three decades to get to know people from various other backgrounds. And as I reviewed attitudes towards work this week while reading "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" by Marva Dawn, I realized that every culture I know prides itself on its work ethic. My Mexican-American neighbor growing up started his own successful air conditioning business and worked long hours on scorching Southern California roofs. My friends of Chinese descent have occasionally referenced how the workers of China have been so much more faithful to work than their leaders have been to lead. Friends from Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Dutch, Italian, British and African descent have all proven to be quite diligent and proud to be hard workers. Even the French boast one of the highest hour-per-hour productivities in the world (despite their 35-hr work week and 90 min lunch breaks). These experiences have conspired to challenge any notion that Germans have the market cornered on hard work.

But this is exactly where a book on sabbath rest is needed, for as a German-American Protestant physician-teacher, my work ethic has been exercised for years, but it feels like starting from square one when asked for my "rest ethic." Though I cannot claim to be any good at ceasing work and celebrating God's goodness and faithfulness one day in seven, I can say that I am excited to plumb the biblical depths for the theology and practice surrounding Sabbath. It seems that God values rest pretty highly too (He put that command ahead of other big ones like "do not commit murder" and "honor your father and mother".) After all, the world's greatest expert on Sabbath was a Jewish-Divine carpenter-healer-preacher-king who already accomplished everything I would ever need done for all eternity, and He invites me to enter into His joy & rest.

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