Have you ever been in a relationship that left you feeling you were reading from a script? It was as if you were dancing in an open meadow until you crashed into an electric fence and the shock of it all brought you to the realisation that your path had been predetermined and your power to choose was just a pitiful mirage, a hallucination. It wasn’t long before you couldn’t wait for phone calls to end as you fought a certain feeling within you demanding acknowledgement: suffocation. Nothing else killed your love and joy besides the realisation that you were no longer free to choose. Relationship cannot exist without freedom.
So it is with God. If He flooded our consciousness with His presence, drowning out all doubt, we would loose our freedom. Cloyed with His presence, we would long for release and become His enemies. Yes, I am a believer and it may be a cop out but I believe that full proof of God’s existence would make Him unlovable. In my understanding of the Bible, I see revealed, a God who seeks relationship as opposed to mere intellectual assent. He has furnished evidence pointing to His existence but even more for His worthiness of love and trust. Yet, relationship must remain a choice.
Humanity was created in God’s image. This is why Adam was invited to share in the creative work of God by naming the animals. His other privilege was to fill the earth with beings in his image (even today, a child not born in its father’s image tends to cause quite a stir), a task he was to accomplish with a companion but even this was not thrust upon him. Having had a taste of life without her, Adam was presented with a companion like him yet different and he made the choice to enter into relationship with her, to partner in building something greater than themselves. In this way, God gave Adam space to stretch himself and then gave Adam and Eve space to stretch their oneness.
The Sabbath is the climax of Genesis’ Creation Week (I take a high view of Scripture). On this day, God creates nought with His voice or hands, unlike the rest of the days. God makes time holy i.e. sets it apart. Throughout the week, God has given form and filled the formless void. On the seventh day, He fills time with His presence. This is Adam and Eve’s first full day on earth and God gives them Himself, will they accept Him? The Sabbath is God’s self imposed vulnerability. Throughout the week, nature has submitted to His command but on Sabbath, no command is given but an invitation is extended to Adam – will you fill this day with yourself? Sabbath is about freedom because it is about relationship.
Even Sinai’s thunder peals couldn’t drown out the decree of freedom woven into the Saabath. Creation week is reminisced about in Exodus 20’s Sabbath statement, decreeing freedom not only for the Jew but for even the most vulnerable of groups – the animals, the labourers and immigrants. Deuteronomy 5’s version weaves in the emancipation. Even here, in circumstances far from the ideal, God is calling His people to the freedom of relationship.
Isaiah 58 bears the Sabbath in the middle of a tirade about social justice. God’s work in this sin sick world is to uplift the downtrodden to restore these dehumanised suffering ones to full human status. Ignoring this work is trampling on the Sabbath because the Sabbath stands for freedom, for God’s longing for relationship with humans created in His image.
God in the person of Jesus, hung on Calvary throughout Friday afternoon and rested on Sabbath in the tomb. Again, Sabbath is tied to God’s longing for His children and His work to uplift them. Despite all this, God gives us space, the blood from Calvary drips not on our foreheads as a constant reminder. Rather, Christ is not even on earth, giving us the space to reason, to investigate and express our creativity- to be what we were made to be. Even after He gave His all, relationship is to remain a choice. Nothing can change that.
The Sabbath hours are upon me as I write this. I come from a Seventh-day Adventist background so the foremost question for me is not “Why should I join?” but, “Why should I stay?” For me, the room that God has left for doubt is evidence not only of His existence but even more so, of His worthiness of trust and love. He has left space for me to expand and be me, a scale model of Him. There is a path that I should walk but only if I choose it. God just doesn’t suffocate. He leaves space.