“Why”? or “How”?


(system) #1

Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong is noted for warning that in fundamentalist organizations, the mere asking of a question may be considered tantamount to heresy. He would know, his positions have resulted in death threats. While not wishing to retain that moniker when my name is considered, I still feel that this Sabbath’s lesson forces me to ask the question, “So why do we keep the Sabbath?”I don’t ask it rhetorically, as I hope to address it in a way that will at least satisfy me.

There was a time when I would have answered quickly (and definitely), “because the fourth commandment says so!”Today, for many Adventists, that is enough. But like a child who answers every answer with a “why?”I no longer find that answer quite as satisfying as I once did. Please don’t judge me too harshly just yet.

One reason that passage has troubled me for some time is why Moses would not be able to take down the words God gave him and quote them the same in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Proponents of JEDP (the Old Testament was developed in four distinct stages) argue that Moses didn’t likely write Exodus 20. It was, they propose, modified sometime after the Babylonian captivity. A professor of mine in the Seminary covered that matter succinctly 36 years ago. “JEDP?”, he said, “we don’t believe that.”Still, I wonder why the differences in the fourth commandment. Is it a Jewish Sabbath, as Deuteronomy suggests or a more universal one as Exodus implies?

Another answer used repeatedly in evangelism is that the Sabbath is the seal of God-- a test of loyalty to Him. This has resonance. God obviously has a right to expect loyalty and obedience from His creatures. The fall of humankind in the creation story illustrates this. (But you may wish to ignore what JEDP has to say about that story! Literary critics suggest that the story blaming the fall on a woman was likely added later, as Jews tried desperately to figure out why God would allow them to be taken into captivity. Ezra comes up with an answer that, in my view, is difficult to conceive as inspired: they had married foreigners and an ethnic cleansing was necessary.)

In spite of these concerns, my obligation to the God of the Sabbath is clear to me, but the why still is there.

There are days when I actually relish periods in my earlier life when questions were less part of my theological existence and I could be satisfied with what was clearly black and white. But if creation teaches us anything, it is that God is not simple. He and His creations are complex; way beyond human understanding.

Dear Lord, why do you want me to keep the Sabbath?

Every time I ask that question in prayerful consideration, the only thing that comes to mind is Revelation 14.

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.

I understand that Lord, but why? What is so important about creation that it is the basis of worship?

Change is happening so fast these days. I wonder who would have predicted a decade ago a battle in THE Seventh-day Adventist Church over creation? Someone I respect told me recently that our core beliefs are dependent on creation: Sabbath, worship, original sin, the promise of a redeemer, the promise of a divine victory. Is all of that really lost if someone believes in the Big Bang? Astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote, “If the Big Bang didn’t occur, then God is a liar.”

Dear Lord, I hear you calling me to recognize you as the Creator. Why? What is there about that event that is so important? Would you really send someone to the lake of fire for questioning if it was six literal days, or wondering if it occurred 100,000 or more years ago, or if pre-existing matter was used? What exactly is your point?

What has become more important to me is not the when or length or the matter, but the HOW.

“By the Word of the Lord…”

Throughout Scripture God says there are two things He can do that we cannot—create and…

RECREATE!

Exactly how either is precisely accomplished is beyond human understanding. These are part of what C. S. Lewis calls “the deep magic.”What is important to note is that the same voice that said, “Let there be light”can also say, “your sins are forgiven.”

Seventh-day Adventists should be at the forefront of proclaiming not only the desire of God to show grace, but that it's backed up with power to accomplish it in a sinner's life. The Sabbath reminds me that the power of God’s voice is reassuringly still available. On a continual, weekly basis hope is pushed to the forefront of my thoughts.

If I have ever felt (I have) that my sins are too great, I need only feel the warmth of sun. The same voice that created it can “renew a right spirit within me.”

Dear Lord, I am happy in your creative Sabbath rest.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5032