A Spatial Theology of The Sabbath. Time over Space? (Part 1)

Sabbath is one of the major blessings God has given to humanity. We usually believe that it has been given only to believers, and to a particular subset – those who keep the Sabbath, i.e. to Adventists. This conclusion is evidently false for two reasons. First, it deforms the Sabbath by converting it into a transactional experience, the product of a moral contract. Instead, it really is a sign of grace, gratuity and freedom. The Sabbath unveils God’s refreshing presence as a reality which precedes what we do and who we are. Through the Sabbath we are noble respondants to a word that is prior to us. We are derived beings. We come after a founding intention which expresses a positive and affirming divine desire for life. Sabbath is the guarantee that we all are desired children – atheists or morally unreliable people included. In and through the Sabbath we are all well-born beings, before and independently of what we can reach professionally, ethically or religiously.

Second, it reduces the Sabbath to one of its forms, the noble but limited and unilateral Adventist Sabbath. The Adventist Sabbath certainly is a precious witness of God’s Sabbath but it cannot pretend to fully incarnate God’s original and multifaceted gift to all humanity. The Sabbath doesn’t belong to Adventism just as it doesn’t belong to Judiasm. The Sabbath is for everybody in a double sense. By Creation and by Election. It’s enough to be a created being in order to be blessed by the Sabbath’s richness. And it’s enough to be blessed in that primordial way in order to clearly perceive God’s universal election. In and through the Sabbath every created being is an elected being.

This tender life-affirming universalism of the Sabbath has very often paradoxically been obscured by those who pretended to uplift it. Nobody will question that Adventism is unique in purposefully and tenaciously calling attention to formal Sabbath-keeping. But at the same time many legitimately question whether Adventism positively incarnates this life-affirming universalism and its psychologically important by-products – such as peace, satisfaction, joy, trust or tolerance. In fact, the Adventist interpretation of the Sabbath is just that, an interpretation, not the reality of the Sabbath itself. We must not overlook this crucial difference.

Ours will never be God’s Sabbath, but only a well-intentioned and hopefully positive interpretation of a reality which is, and always will be, bigger than us. We can just humbly be a witness to, but not the complete incarnation of, God’s Sabbath. Like the Bible itself, the Sabbath also is not Adventist – for two reasons. First, because it better preserves the Sabbath’s life-affirming universalism, not reducing it to transitory and circumstantial forms. Second, because it doesn’t legitimate as final and absolute what in reality is particular and relative. In fact Adventism has developed predominantly a moral and ecclesiocentric understanding of the Sabbath. This is both legitimate and positive. It has helped a lot of people, both Adventist and non-Adventist, discover the sacrality of the Sabbath. But the main negative collateral effect of this understanding resides in its structural emphasis which produces more exclusion than inclusion. Most notably by Adventists envisioning the Sabbath in radically exclusive terms as part of “last day”events. The Sabbath will be, according to the diffuse Adventist apocalyptic vulgata, the final sign of true exclusion. But it’s not a question of who keeps the chronological day better – enclosed in a concrete-walled-church, but rather who spreads its life-affirming universalism throughout the world, where an enriched life is continually threatened.

The main hypothesis of this series of articles will be that this life-affirming universalism of the Sabbath has been obscured and dismantled. But not by a purist, restrictive and unilateral interpretation, like that of Adventism. No, it is the predominant Western cultural view that has privileged the importance of time over space. Today the Western globalized understanding of reality expresses an inflexible dictatorship favoring the category of time at the expense of space. And Christian theology, which should have re-oriented and corrected this cultural trend as it emerged, has simply validated it with a biblical justification found in the transversal, recurrent and pivotal category of “History”. It seems that everything in biblical and theological studies is an expression of this omnipresent category.

Even the Sabbath is being used today, not to correct the temporal obsession of our culture and our modern religion, but to reinforce it as an innocuous, more temporally friendly alternative. But the biblical Sabbath a hybrid. It has a strong spatial as well as temporal dimension. The Sabbath is born with Creation, not the Ten Commandments. And Creation infers space. Creation is the biblical word for nature and cosmos, and conveys a double meaning. First, in opposition to its correlative category of nature, Creation is relational. It expresses a dependance. While nature poses itself as autonomous, Creation instead refers to the One who created it. Second, Creation is the biblical word for Space. A Space created and organized by God the Creator. In Creation we don’t have an absolute but rather a relational Space. It’s created by God but also inhabited by the beings created by God. In opposition to our modern understanding of space as a neutral and aseptic reality, God’s created Space is not neutral or aseptic. Its destiny is to be positively contaminated and inhabited by the species created by God.

Time without Space has lead the modern world to build a new kind of dualism. A temporal dualism of a time that represents the only dimension where meaning can really emerge, against a devaluated space which only needs to be overcome because it is unable to offer a possible place for meaning. And the Sabbath, amputated of its inborn spatial component, seems to be swallowed by this perspective and to have lost its power of renewal. The unilateral temporal Sabbath seems to have become part of the problem of this global temporal obsession that German sociologist Hartmunt Rosa calls “temporal alienation” or “Blind Acceleration”.

The dissociation of time from space has produced three harmful consequences that have broken up the life-affirming universalism which represents the heart of the Sabbath. These are constitutively linked to the category of space and will be examined in this series. This unbalanced and unilateral temporal Sabbath without Space has produced: first, an “anthropological exclusivism” which privileges the believer who keeps the Sabbath in contrast to others who are simply living life. Second, a “spiritual exclusivism” which privileges religion as a system of correct beliefs, vs. the ecological that defends life in its multiple manifestations. Third, a “theological exclusivism” which sees God exclusively in his power and omnipotence, over and against a flexible and “kenotic” God who gives away some of his prerogatives to his creatures. The Sabbath is the inclusive life-affirming gift of God to all his spacial creatures, who are challenged to advance into a future that always will remain linked to a blessed Space he has called Creation and whose memorial and distinctive song is the spatio-temporal Sabbath.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9784
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Thank you for this heavy loaded series. I am so looking forward to reading more of the “spatial turn” with regard to the Sabbath.

There is a lot to ponder, and a lot what the author will hopefully unpack, and further explain.
My very first cryptic, incomplete thoughts:

  1. I love the differentiation between the Sabbath as a gift vs. the Adventist exclusive Sabbath. Adventism needs first a theoretical concept of this, and second practical applications. What does it mean in practical terms to have a life-affirming Sabbath for instance?
    (I don’t start the discussion if the Fri-Sat-Sabbath has ongoing validity in our day and age because this happened elsewhere.)

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the simple fact that SDA’s Sabbath understanding is just one interpretation, and not God’s whole reality. This is a great contribution to the hermeneutic discussion on Spectrum.

  3. I am looking forward to the unpacking of the spatial dimension of the Sabbath. Hanz Gutierrez divides the Creation Sabbath from the temporal Ten Commendment Sabbath. Can’t wait to hear practical applications of this.

  4. I am having a bit of a problem with the “deification” of the Sabbath in the following statements though:

The Sabbath can’t guarantee our dignity as God’s children, not even the Sabbath at Creation (whatever this first one was). But I would rather see it (the first Creation Sabbath, and the one today) as a possible grace tool to make us aware of it. I understand the author’s point to emphasize the first Creation Sabbath for all created beings (blessing for the whole space includes everyone), and therefore showing that God’s love and election includes everyone.

If I may express a wish: In this article, I am not quite sure when the first Sabbath at Creation is meant, and when the later one of our age. A little clarification is highly appreciated.

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I should probably wait for the entire series to be posted before commenting; so I’m giving myself the challenge of a running commentary as the subject progresses. The subject is important, especially for Adventists because Adventist identity relies so heavily on the temporal definition of the Sabbath - and underlies all the rest of its doctrines. And so, the statement - The Adventist Sabbath certainly is a precious witness of God’s Sabbath but it cannot pretend to fully incarnate God’s original and multifaceted gift to all humanity.- is vitally important in order place ourselves in proper relationship to creation and all of humanity.

But there seems to be a problem when, at first, it says the Sabbath is not a “transactional experience”, yet later, states that we are “noble respondents” to a word that came before we did. Actually, man was created before the Sabbath was instituted. The Sabbath was not meant for nature (en total) before man arrived to be its custodian. Creation was a complete package before God rested.

The Jews, as well as Adventists have adopted the Sabbath as a sign of a special relationship with God - which leaves out the rest of humanity. The article points that out as well. The only way to make Sabbath inclusive is to remove it from theology - and assume it is universal. The only way to do that is read Genesis without the help of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and the “SDA Bible Commentary”.

The Sabbath comes as the last day of creation, when the world and the sea of cosmos around it were complete, and declared “good”. That last day of the creation week never came to an end with a rising sun. God intended for His perfect creation to bask in the His completed work - which for us as Christians takes on a special meaning as we rest in the completed work Christ.

…and it’s enough to live every day that was/is blessed by God - the herald of the ultimate rest, realized in His Son.

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This is a problematic statement, to me. Election in the sense of the NT has all to do with Christ…not the Sabbath, not the Law. Sabbath, which was a sign of election for Israel, has, with the entire Old Covenant, met its fulfillment in Christ. Universal election for Jew and Gentile alike comes not in the Sabbath, but in Christ…whether one parses this temporally or spatially. Even if one tries to split off the primordial creation sabbath from Israel and the giving of the Law, which is suspect in and of itself, I think. Christ brings new creation, to which all are invited to participate, Jew and Gentile.

I’m bothered by the transference of such significance from Jesus himself to the seventh day, as seen here and through other points in this article. In and through Christ, every created being is an elected being… by faith/allegiance.

Thanks…

Frank

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Frank, I agree with your contribution.
One question remains for me: Don’t you think one can separate the primordial creation sabbath from the ten commandments? I know both are part of the law (torah), and I know the Genesis narrative is written by Israel with the Sinai covenant in view so to speak, but don’t you think Gen 2:1-3 is broader than Exodus 20:8-11? God resting in Genesis kind of lays the foundation and is therefore something different then what the law exercises for a certain time span (until Messiah)? The climax of this primordial sabbath is resting in Christ now. So, one can somehow separate the primordial one, the Sinai one, the “since Christ” one: foundation - temporal application - climax. (?) Am I misunderstanding something here?

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Hi Kate…

You bring up good points. But, even assuming that one can split them, the NT makes little reference to the Sabbath for believers in the way that this article does, either from Genesis or from Sinai.

Christ is the second Adam, according to Paul. He inaugurates new creation that invites all, Jew and Gentile to participate on equal terms, as they are. Even bypassing the Sabbath’s connection to the Law, one finds marriage, also an Edenic model, applied to Gentile believers, but nothing is said by Paul about seventh day sabbath and sabbath rest for Gentiles, in the new creation/covenant. One needs to ask why.

Hebrews cites Genesis and the seventh day as a model of God’s completed works, but uses it to point to the ultimate completion and rest in Christ. IOW, the seventh day creational sabbath, as well as the entrance into the land, both seen as symbols of rest and identity for Israel, pointed to a reality beyond themselves. They were no longer the definers of belonging to the people of God, Christ and allegiance to him were…election.

For these reasons, and more, I think that this article overstates what the Sabbath signifies for believers, by transferring existential meaning from Christ to it. Unless, I’m totally misreading the author’s intentions…and I will certainly allow for that, too!

Thanks…

Frank

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Yes, I agree, and like we have elsewhere discussed: The weekly Sabbath is not a commandment for Gentile Christians. We can “keep” a modern version of it like many Jewish Christians do, but this is not a general duty or rule for each and everyone. I didn’t want to open this discussion again because we had it in other threads.
And your points are what I carefully called “deification” of the sabbath in my first post.

I was just wondering about this sentence of you:

I was wondering if the rest of God (primordial sabbath) and the application in the ten commandments are one and the same thing for you. That’s all. Now I understand that you are concerned that if one separates them, a new weekly sabbath commandment can creep in even in the new covenant (“better watch out for a [legalistic] weekly application of the primordial sabbath when you loose the ten commandment one”).
The separation illustrated in my last post does not lead to a weekly sabbath commandment for me. But I personally choose a good habit of having a relationship day Fri-Sat, my freely chosen blessed version of an application.

I am really looking forward to further explanation in this series because it is a fascinating topic and I am so open for diversity and new input.

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I have found the author, Wayne Muller, VERY refreshing!
His book, “Sabbath – finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy
lives” is one of the best that I have read.
MUCH BETTER than what one finds on ABC book stores shelves.
He looks at the focus of Sabbath from MANY different cultures.
A MUST read. Is available on Kindle also.

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Hanz has given us a challenging introduction to the new philosophy of the creation Sabbath that the Seventh-day Adventist leaders are trying to establish. I use the words “new” and “philosophy” advisedly. My memories of Sabbath School go back to the early 1940s, the war years.

The trend over the last number of years to discover a new understanding of the original creation and the weekly Sabbath has little if any support in Scripture, especially Scripture written under the new covenant.

I agree with Frank Merendino that where the church is currently headed in its Sabbath theology is usurping the centrality of Christ and the new creation of the new covenant.

All of the rights and privileges and blessings that came to the human race at creation were lost when Adam and Eve chose independence from God. On this basis it is futile to attempt to build so much into the creation story and the seventh day to establish an understanding of our relationships with God, others of the human race and nature.

The God of creation, the God who rested on the seventh day after He had completed His work, has much to teach us about the consequences of broken relationships caused by separation from God and departure from the life that God originally planned for mankind.

I am convinced that all the answers that this new creation/Sabbath philosophy is grappling to discover are found in Jesus Christ and His finished work the cross. Everything since Calvary is on a new foundation. The Word became flesh, lived among us, died and rose again to establish a new kingdom of grace. It is in Jesus as Redeemer that we discover our real worth as human beings. It is Christ’s finished work on the cross that re-establishes all that was lost in Eden, but on a higher plane.

I would suggest that we seek these answers starting in John 1. Genesis is essential background but John 1 reveals all the keys that we need to understand life. John directs our focus to the Word, Christ crucified and risen.

The first few verses of John 1 put the original creation story in a new light. John builds a solid foundation for God’s kingdom as we go through this pivotal chapter. By verse 12 the critical issue is to receive Christ, the Word, the true Light. Only then do we receive from Him the right to become children of God, born of God.

We move from a lost dominion in Genesis to the glory of a new kingdom, established on a new covenant, a new birth, a new creation, a new relationship with our God. John 1 sets the framework. The rest of the New Testament writers flesh out the details as needed.

Surely our focus should be on God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and on all that they finished on the cross for us. Jesus was the first-fruits of a new resurrection, a new creation, a new life available to all mankind.

Christ is our King and Priest of the new kingdom of grace. Christ is our eternal rest. Everything flows from this infinite source of divine love and grace.

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I suspect it was first and foremost “the honeymoon”, celebration of relationship non pareil!
I mean this in no salacious fashion, but imagine-given the procreative gift by a creative loving Abba, in a perfect Garden, even if the apple tree were blooming alread (but thankfully oblivious to the coming seeds of divorce forming)

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Really interesting. :+1: Where do you see God in this celebration? The text says, he rested. The focus is on him. He is resting and enjoying his procreative creation? Do you mean this?

Timo –
Perhaps we might say this –
God “rested” – DOES God REALLY REST?
Humans – they “explored”! After all, everything was UNKNOWN.
First and foremost was “how our bodies operate”. Then a look around
their environment. Perhaps water, dirt = mud. To smell, perhaps taste?
So many senses being bombarded all at the same time. A look at
their reflections in a pool of water.
They had all night 6th day to cuddle in the moon-light.
Jews continue that tradition. “Make Love” at the beginning of the Sabbath.
Almost a “command” to do so.
Perhaps they had built a small Succoth to sleep in.

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…perhaps the inveterate creator “celibated”?
I’m suggesting that the solution is forthright and apparent,
and not at all what we’ve been told it is…

@Kate, it is i think obvious that Gods love of creation is borne in his sharing the joy with humanity in procreation.

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Oh, now I really get you. You’re talking about this image: God “procreated” (i.e. created a creation with the ability of procreation) and then “was celibate” (i.e. stopped creating this kind of creation) and enjoyed it. Silly me.

I sense there remains a moratorium on creation, at least until the infection is cured forever

Adventists don’t keep the sabbath because of what the Bible says. We keep it because of what EGW says. I daresay that most SDAs don’t know that the word “sabbath” doesn’t appear anywhere in Genesis or Revelation.

that we are taught that the Sabbath we keep today must be a perfect repeat of the first Sabbath (beginning at the exact same north-south line at the exact same hour on the exact same date as the first Sabbath), or we are NOT keeping THE ORIGINAL Sabbath any more than the Catholics do.

BUT WE DON’T KNOW THE ANSWERS TO ANY OF THOSE WHATS AND WHERES AND WHENS!

If God wanted us to keep a sabbath that’s in perfect synch with a sabbath that occurred in Eden, He would have told us how.

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Living with mystery. Living with diverse interpretations. Being open to different approaches. And reading what the text says and what it doesn’t say. We just don’t know (much/all). Thanks for the reminder.

About the mystery of the what/where/when:
I like @Sirje’s observation (see above) of the 7th day of the first creation story: No evening-morning mentioned i.e. no end. This can mean all time is blessed time for all creation since the beginning and ultimately “realized in His Son”.
And I like @ray’s observation (see above) that John 1 is the framework for our first creation story in Genesis. Interpreting all of the OT with the revelation of the Son and especially when the NT explicitly says so.

Teamwork :revolving_hearts:

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