The Theological Mis-Commitment Behind Our Exhaustion

Some salient thoughts on rest and restlessness from Walter Brueggemann’s new booklet, Sabbath as Resistance: […]

David Zahl / 6.17.14

Some salient thoughts on rest and restlessness from Walter Brueggemann’s new booklet, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. He may skirt what we might call an overly gracious view of the Law, putting an uncomfortable amount of onus for current restlessness on external circumstances (rather than locating the roots within), but still, the core diagnosis strikes me as a valid one:

MJworkinThe alternative on offer [in the Sabbath] is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God. To be so situated is a staggering option, because we are accustomed to being on the initiating end of all things. We neither expect nor even want a gift to be given, so inured are we to accomplishing and achieving and possessing.” (pg xiv)

The reality of restlessness in our contemporary society is obvious and epidemic. The identification of that restlessness perhaps goes back to the categories of Martin Luther concerning “faith and works,” with the accent on “works” indicating a need to produce, perform, and qualify for the goodness of God. It is an easy move to take that Reformation accent on “works” and see in our current social restlessness evidence of not yet being good enough or having done enough yet.

Or perhaps such restlessness is rooted in the Enlightenment discovery of the individual and the emergent ideology of individualism that cuts us off from the buoyant sustenance of community and tradition. In that ideology, one is not only free to secure one’s own future without answering to any other; one is also required to secure one’s own future, because a laissez-faire economics mandates that one must sink or swim by one’s own effort, and it is never enough simply to tread water.

These rootages in Reformation and Enlightenment categories have created a contemporary circumstance in our society that generates an endless pursuit of greater security and greater happiness, a pursuit that is always unsatisfied, because we have never gotten or done enough… yet. The gods of this system are the gods of market ideology that summon to endless desires and needs that are never met but that always require greater effort.

The various elements of that restlessness of “not enough yet” and “greater effort required” are evident everywhere. But they are grounded in a theological desire for an ultimate reality of total satiation that is no reality at all. That theological “mis-commitment” is apparent in economic performance that can never satisfy. Such an intrinsic and systematic inadequacy is a recognizable echo of the ancient Hebrew slaves, harassed by many supervisors and taskmasters who kept reminding them of the inadequacy of their production. (pg. 12-13)