October 7, 2016


We needn’t choose between the seventh and the Saviour.

Bill Knott

It’s still the most valuable book I’ve ever found on the bargain table.

Idling away an hour at an outlet mall bookstore, I turned over a hardback copy of Mark Buchanan’s now-celebrated The Rest of God, marked down to $5.95 less than a year after its publication. Among the dreamy romance novels and cheap editions of O. Henry already much mauled, I was first caught by the delightful puzzle of its title.

Was Buchanan actually writing about the rest God gives the weary—specifically, the Sabbath? Or was he writing about some aspect of our grasp of God that is unfinished, unfulfilled?

The answer was “Yes.”

I opened to Buchanan’s introduction, and found myself uncomfortably described:

“I became a Sabbath-keeper the hard way: either that or die. Not literally die—at least I don’t think so—but die in other ways. It happened subtly over time, but I noticed that the harder I worked, the less I accomplished. I was often a whirligig of motion: my days were intricately fitted together like the old game of Mousetrap, every piece precariously connected to every other, the whole thing needing to fit together for it to work at all.

But there was little joy, and stunted fruit.”

I started reading The Rest of God slowly, savoring the lyrical words of a gifted author who saved his finest syllables for Sabbathkeeping. Within a week, I found a satisfying rhythm: I read Buchanan’s book only one chapter per week—and only early on Sabbath morning, propped up on the family room couch while the house was peaceful and dark.

Two months later, I sat in his church office on Vancouver Island, absorbing the gentleness of a man who cheerfully admitted he was still learning much about the Sabbath. No, he didn’t celebrate his Sabbath on the seventh day, as I did, though he was open to it. And no, I didn’t celebrate the Sabbath so well as he did, though I had claimed to do so all my life.

“You Adventists have thought much more about the Sabbath than I have,” he murmured as he thought about the cascade of my questions. “I’ve only been a Sabbathkeeper for six years. I can see I have much to understand.”

Inwardly, at least, I blushed, knowing that his corporate compliment was sometimes undeserved.

For we are often restless people—we who carry Sabbath truth. Beset by urgencies we sense in the other half of our denominational name, we hurry men and women toward the seventhness of Sabbath, as though that were the only good. The Lord who bids us find His rest is bypassed by believers who forget to stop and savor grace—the sweet, slow restoration of our souls that is His other goal for Sabbath.

We want His peace, we say, so long as we can have it now—without the long Emmaus walk, without the midday at the well—a pill we crave for anxious minds and knotted muscles. And so we fill the day we call “the Lord’s” with things that must make Jesus weep—with controversies; gossiping; with surly elders’ meetings; with digital diversions that keep us from the One who offers rest to those who know to offer time; with tight-wound homilies that stress our duty, not His graciousness.

“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God” (Heb 4:9, NRSV*)—awaiting our discovery. The rest of God—all that Christ is; all that He offers us—is just as much the truth we ought to carry—and to live—as on which day to do so. We needn’t choose between the seventh and the Saviour, any more than we must choose between the fact of His soon coming and our friendship with the One who has loved us from all eternity.

Great joy is coming—now, and then. And He arrives each Friday in the west at sundown just as He will surely arrive some glorious morning in the east.

*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.