Rest is a forgotten art. Most of us believe rest to be a good thing. We see the rhythm of work and rest that God modeled for us in Genesis. But we have a hard time putting it into practice.
And understandably so. At the fall, our concept of work was fractured, resulting in a myriad of problems. Overwork and slothfulness are distortions of God’s rhythm of work and rest modeled in Genesis.
Overworking cuts against the pattern God inscribed into creation. In a fallen world, we sometimes overwork when we try to find our significance or personal value in our work. We should find our worth in God, the giver of our ability to work, not in the work itself.
We also tend to overwork when we view our work merely as a means to profit. Ultimately, our work is an act of worship that honors God and loves neighbor, not merely an act of gaining profit.
In contrast, slothfulness distorts God’s plan for humanity in a way that strips people of the opportunity for dignity. Although the creation account in Genesis 1 does not directly admonish the sluggard, the implication is apparent. God commanded humans to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” not to be lazy (Genesis 1:28).
The book of Proverbs explicitly addresses the idler with deeply critical language. The lazy person is characterized as making outlandish excuses for not being vigilant in daily tasks, saying, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13). The dullard is also described as groaning like a squeaky door when it’s time to arise (Proverbs 26:14). Proverbs’ most vivid word picture depicts the slothful as being too shiftless to follow through with what they’ve begun doing: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 19:24).
Work and Rest
What’s missing in the errors of overwork and slothfulness? A commitment to true, biblical rest. Rest allows us to reassign proper value to our work in a way that pleases the Lord. Rest ensures that we not overwork while also not indulging in the excesses associated with slothfulness.
First, rest ensures that we do not become machine-like commodities, valuable only for the goods or services we produce. Rest expands our sense of personal value because we spend that time exercising different parts of our humanity. A proverb of unknown origin encourages us to seek a dignifying balance: “If you work with your mind, you must rest with your hands; if you work with your hands, you must rest with your mind.”
Rest also recalibrates the market-drive values of the Western mind. German philosopher Josef Pieper touched on this in his essay “Leisure, the Basis of Culture.” Keller summarizes Pieper’s point thus:
Leisure is not the mere absence of work, but an attitude of mind or soul in which you are able to contemplate and enjoy things as they are in themselves, without regard to their value or their immediate utility. The work-obsessed mind — as in our Western culture — tends to look at everything in terms of efficiency, value, and speed. But there must also be an ability to enjoy the most simple and ordinary aspects of life, even ones that are not strictly useful, but just delightful.
The creation account of Genesis lays the groundwork for understanding God’s intent for work. God is a worker, and thus his image-bearers are workers and are dignified in so doing. The uniqueness of our work is as God’s reflection in humanity, one that corrects misguided motivations for work and the common problems of over- and underworking.
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 Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), 48.