A medicine for a restless society

After my grandfather passed the age of seventy, he came to live with our family. He spent his days working a little in the garden, going for a short walk, and reading in his easy chair. My life and that of many of my peers is very different. My diary is still full of appointments and my ‘to do’ list includes a series of projects that I hope to work on in the near future: the preparation of sermons and lectures, the writing of articles and of one or more books. And then, there is a list of people I plan to visit and there is a pile of books in the living room besides my chair, that I hope to read in the near future.

I am no exception. Many pensioners say they are very ‘busy’. There are so many things they feel they have to do that they wonder how they used to have time to work. Sometimes there is some exaggeration, but the fact that the lives of many elderly people are different now from what they were one or two generations ago, is undoubtedly true. Fortunately, many older people are now much fitter than their peers in earlier times. The average life expectancy has risen considerably and the social possibilities and expectations have changed dramatically.

For those who are still fully engaged in the labor market, life has also become increasingly busy. We once thought that the ever-increasing mechanization and subsequent computerization would make life much easier. Some futurologists predicted that within a few decades we would only have to work 15-20 hours per week, and that there actually would be no more work for many people, thanks to machines, computers and robots. The average working week has indeed become shorter and the average working week is now around 40 hours, or a little less, for a large part of the working population. What strikes me most, however, about the recent protests in the Netherlands of many professional groups (especially in health care and education) is that people not only want to have more salary, but that they also complain about the ever increasing workload and the accompanying pressure. And gradually the phenomenon of ‘burn-out’ has reached epidemic proportions.

Employees are now often expected to be available at all times, and the boundary between work and leisure time has in many cases become quite blurred. Many activities may have become easier and physically less strenuous, but there is infinitely more to report, to consult and to communicate. Many processes have become far more complicated. Take the domain of health care, for example. Much more has become possible in the treatment of diseases and the rehabilitation of people, etc. These developments cause a great deal of extra work and stress for many people in caring professions.

I notice that I need a weekly rest. God foresaw that man would need such a time of rest and he created time for us human beings in units of six-plus-one days. After every six days there had to be a period of rest—-for body and spirit. Because I preach almost every Sabbath, there is often not much rest on that day. For many people—for pastors and lay people who are active in the Church–the Sabbath is often not the oasis of rest it is supposed to be. This point does not receive sufficient attention.

The biblical Sabbath has been a focal point of the Adventist principles from the beginning of our church’s history, but more than ever before it is now a ‘present truth’. The Sabbath can be a medicine against the pressures of the relentless pace of the twenty-first century. Clearly, according to the Bible, the Sabbath falls on the seventh day of the week, which we usually call Saturday. But it is no longer our greatest concern that people understand on what day the Sabbath falls on (although that is not an insignificant detail), but that we succeed in convincing people that celebrating the Sabbath is a tremendous blessing for body and soul. The Sabbath is God’s gift to man and it is important that the people of our time learn to unpack that gift and to enjoy it.

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