III. Keep Holy the Sabbath
Let us Lay Aside All Earthly Cares
Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.
(Exodus 20:8-10, DRA)
Now, there’s a lot going on with ceremonial law, legalism, and new covenant stuff, so let's jump over the legal requirements and ask quite simply: what principle is being asked of us? What fundamental truths are pointed to in this commandment? Obviously, rest is important in furthering our relationship with God. But what sort of rest?
1. But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.
(Didache Chapter XIV.11 —Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day. 14 [A.D. 70])
We are called to all rest, communally - and that this rest will be one of thanksgiving and confession - and yes - sacrifice.
But isn’t the modern arrangement that we have, where people work various different hours and shifts, making their own time for rest, superior? It keeps us moving forwards, right? Well, we took this to its logical extreme once before.
In the early 20th century, the Soviet Union (partly seeking to subvert the life of the church) switched to five-day work weeks, with workers recieving one day a week off in a rotating fashion (such that factories were always on but with 80% of their workers). What was the result? Machines broke down more. On one hand, the same worker wouldn’t be operating the machine, leading to misuse. On the other hand, continuous operation meant that there was never time for routine service. And, nobody much liked it:
"What is there for us to do at home if our wives are in the factory, our children at school and nobody can visit us? It is no holiday if you have to have it alone."
"How are we to work now, if mother is free on one day, father on another, brother on a third and I myself on a fourth?"
This echoes the sacrifice mentioned in the Didache - because the Soviets were unwilling to sacrifice a day of productivity, things ground to a halt.
The commandment to rest is not individual, but societal. Of course we make exceptions for necessary work like emergency services, just as our Lord did (Mark 3:1-6), but the idyllic day of rest does not have this, and we should aspire to it.
Of course there is small amounts of labor required to support such recreational activities such as preparing food for a banquet. Of course the underlying spirit of rest should guide us, and incline us to do prep work before the feast day and to avoid cleaning until the day after, so that we can invite as many as possible, as much as possible, to enjoy a restful feast.
I’m actually quite optimistic about what technology is capable of doing (and has done) on this front. I think even many secular folks have a modicum of understanding here, although theirs is a picture of individual comfort rather than communal rest. We've made very many technologies that facilitate rest.
Slow cooking; crock pots and meat smokers allow for lavish meals to be produced by expending upfront effort for a later payoff.
Any storage medium which allows us to be confident in our food supply.
Shelter and protection from nature's whims.
These things may be used to rest: to facilitate our rejoicing and thanksgiving to the Lord. Or, they may be used lazily, allowing us to do literally nothing. Or, they may spur us on to be hyper-productive. These things in themselves are not solutions, but can be aids.
It is a common question that gets asked: "is it permissible to eat out on Sundays?" Understanding the point of a sabbath to be a universal rest, ideally, one should not participate in the sin of those who will not cease servile works. Correspondingly, one should not utilize technologies to encourage Sunday labor. Heaven is better than two-day shipping.
There is another way we harm rest: noise. Work is the antithesis of rest not inherently, but because it generates noise. By noise I mean not only unpleasant sounds, but disorder, meaninglessness. Cacophony, disordered sound, ruckus, clutter, aimless media - none of these things rejuvenate us and inspire us to God, but rather drive us to despair and away from Him. For it is possible that during the other days of the week we can find Him in our work, we will hardly ever find him in polluting sound.
For some years now there has been a constant onslaught of images, lights, and colors that blind man. His interior dwelling is violated by the unhealthy, provocative images of pornography, bestial violence, and all sorts of worldly obscenities that assault purity of heart and infiltrate through the door of sight.
(Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, #43)
Silencing the world outside ourselves enables good confession and thanksgiving.
And of course, another word for noise might be pollution. Pollution harms; usually indiscriminately, sometimes immeasurably. We know about the effects of smog, but who knows how much harm low-frequency noise from windmills, or cars, etc. does to us? What about widespread RF pollution? It is very difficult to measure these affects, as one cannot readily create a control group. Since the effects are subtle, they are often left off as requirements, or at least given with very generous bounds. The engineer, then, does not take this into consideration when conducting design. This is left as a problem of the commons, then, where toxin is produced and diluted with nobody to bill for it.
We get physical pollution in hoarding and amassment of 'stuff'. Phones that are outdated in two years. Specialized kitchen gadgets with limited functionality yet are 'cutting edge'. Layers of plastic packaging. Toys and titillations. As far as noise goes, these things are pollutants more when they are in our homes, rather than in a landfill. The engineer harms rest when he encourages amassment. We'll talk about this (and right-to-repair) more in the future.
To promote rest, we need silent technology, then: technology that doesn't pollute. Technology that satiates, that performs its task and gets out of the way. Not constant pinging and notifications, not smog and smoke, not blasting RF waves at all times. Just as we must rest because we create noise, so must our tools.
In summary, the technologies we build and proliferate must:
Not emit excess noise (of whatever wavelength).
Not be excessive, physically or temporally.
Not be flashy disctractions, rending our eyes from Him.
Allow us to join as one body to break bread.
Inspire us to rest in thanksgiving for God's glory.