By Charles Gardner, UK Correspondent
An almost tangible sense of peace has descended on Parliament since Boris Johnson stormed to victory in the General Election. And it seems to have pervaded the atmosphere of the country as a whole.
The debates I have watched on TV have been paragons of civility chaired by a delightfully calm and gentlemanly figure. After all the shouting and abuse hurled about the chamber of late, this is a welcome development borne of much prayer.
Sadly, the battle lines have transferred to the Palace with “Megxit” causing much anguish for the Queen. But peace there is also possible if guidelines set by the “Royal Law” – “Love your neighbour as yourself” – is followed (James 2.8).
In a world deluged by terror, divisions and stress, I have felt repeatedly prompted to revisit the Bible’s teaching on the Sabbath. A key focus of the Christian principles upon which Western civilisation were built was surely the rest day of Sunday when we would stop to meditate on God’s ways and spend restful time with family, allowing us to slow down and switch off.
But now we are trapped on a revolving stairway of work – with no rest or play – in a hurly-burly 24/7 world. Mothers seem permanently distracted by their mobiles to the lasting detriment of their children, who become increasingly less likely to develop social skills. No-one can switch off – not even to cross the road.
There is a reason that keeping the Sabbath is the fourth of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20.8), designed for our good and ignored at our peril. Refusal to rest will inevitably lead (for individuals and nations) to spiritual, physical and mental breakdown.
Shopping has now become Sunday’s religion. For the stores, it’s an absurd and pointless exercise because customers have a limited budget and shops can’t possibly make any more money with all the extra expense involved in keeping their doors open and employing more staff.
More importantly, constant busyness is likely to rob people of the vital opportunity for discovering a relationship with their Creator, who offers “life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6.19) through Jesus. They may never enter the rest (peace) God offers because they haven’t made time to consider his place in their lives. (Hebrews 4.11)
I will never forget the peace I experienced as I walked up the Jaffa Road in Jerusalem as the Jewish Sabbath began on a Friday evening back in November 2013. There was absolutely no traffic as my friend and I ambled along the tramlines chatting happily with hardly a soul in sight. This is the rest God means us to have each week. It will lower your blood pressure, for one thing.
The early Christians moved their Sabbath to Sunday, ostensibly to mark the Lord’s resurrection, but more likely as an unhelpful further break from the Jewish roots of our faith. After all, the sacrificial death of Christ three days earlier was equally important. Without his death, we have no life.
But I’m focusing here on the principle of the Sabbath as a day of rest holy to the Lord. A farmer friend has even posed the suggestion of whether failure to observe the Sabbath, which also applies to land (Lev 25.2), has led to global warming. He wonders if it is “God’s removal of creation’s ‘rest’ – i.e. winter”. (As far as the Australian bushfires are concerned, Aborigines are saying they are due to neglect of an ancient fire-prevention method.)
But it’s time we rediscovered the blessings of the Sabbath, and a life without undue stress that is dedicated to Jesus.
As for Meghan Markle, it’s understandable that, despite having married a prince, she should want to make her own personal mark in the world. For someone who is quite literally used to being a “drama queen”, it’s not surprising that she has soon become bored with the humdrum round of royal duties. But I fear the perfect scenario she is chasing will be elusive. There’s a bigger prize on which she needs to focus.
For athlete Eric Liddell at the Paris Games in 1924, you would have thought Olympic gold would have been a big enough ambition. But not for him. Pleasing his Lord was infinitely more important. So when he learnt that heats for the race for which he was most likely to win a medal were to be held on a Sunday – the Lord’s Day – there was no competition.
He bowed out of the 100 metres as he bowed to a higher cause. But before the start of the 400m, he was reminded of the Bible verse: “Those who honour me I will honour.” (1 Sam 2.30) He won gold after all, and went on to serve his Lord in China where perhaps it was thought he would be forgotten. But no. He is still remembered a century on – even in our secular world – as a hero of faith.
The psalmist made the mistake of envying the prosperity of the wicked. Those not following God’s ways seemed to be getting away with it and doing very nicely, thank you – “until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (Psalm 73)
He realised he was better off than them. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”
The Sabbath was never meant to be a negative rule – switch off, yes, but not to the absurd degree that even forbids switching an electric light on, as some interpret it. This is why Jesus spent so much time confronting the Pharisees for their overly restrictive interpretation of this law. It’s quite ok, he said, to perform necessary tasks like rescuing a sheep or giving your donkey a drink. (Matt 12.11, Luke 13.15)
God has our best interests at heart, and rest is vital. So is worship, which is why we will never be satisfied with ambitions not directed towards him. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.27)