Spirituality: on the seventh day, when God rests

“On the seventh day God finished the work he had done. He rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. And God blessed the seventh day: he sanctified it since, on that day, he rested from all the work of creation that he had done. (Genesis 2, 2-3).

These sentences come to close the biblical story of Creation in Genesis, this long inaugural poem which shows God calling the world and the living into existence. Words that are conclusive only in appearance, because the reflection and even the imagination of the reader are immediately revived by this enigmatic rest: What does God do when he rests? Are we to understand that Creation has tired him? Isn’t he, however, the one we consider to be “the indefatigable” ?

Such was the point of view of Saint Augustine (354-430) who pointed out the contradiction that there would be in believing God tired of a job, even that of the Creation that he brought forth by his word. “Isn’t it indeed unacceptable to say or believe that God is weary at work (…) when it is enough for him to say so that things are? For the man himself does not get tired if, in the presence of a task to be accomplished, it is enough for him to say so that the thing will be immediately. noted the philosopher-theologian, in De Genesi ad litteram (IV, VIII).

Mysterious Divine Rest

Other Christian thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas or Suarez, developed similar arguments over the centuries, always with the same concern for avoiding anthropomorphisms, until the 20th century, when the Protestant theologian Karl Barth distinguished “a recreation following hard and well-executed work” – which cannot be applied to God – of a rest which consists in “to stop working, to turn away and distance oneself from one’s work”which may suit him to the Almighty.

To a large extent, however, the meaning of this divine rest escapes the tiresome humans that we are. This is undoubtedly the reason why the philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien used paradoxes to talk about it, thus keeping its share of mystery: “God does not rest because he would be tired and, when he rests, he does not stop acting. His action is rest and his rest action. he wrote in tiredness (1).

From the rest of God in Genesis is in any case born that of humans. Following it, the Sabbath prescribes the cessation of labor activity on the seventh day of the week, in remembrance of the beginnings of Creation and in remembrance of the liberation from slavery in Egypt.. “More than a rest, it is above all a peace of covenant between God and Israel and between humans among themselves”, underlines the Jewish philosopher Catherine Chalier.

Meditate on the Sabbath

The break that the Sabbath introduces into the course of days was meditated upon by Jewish spirituals. “For the Rebbe of Gour, for example, the Sabbath opens a breach in the feeling that nature and the cosmos are self-sufficient, continues Catherine Chalier. For him, the Sabbath is inhabited by a nostalgia, that of an “inner point” which inhabits us and which is the point where the infinite touches the finite in us. » The Jewish mystical tradition has also interpreted God’s rest as a withdrawal that allows human freedom to occur, “with the idea that the freedom of man could not arise if God did not suspend his action and veil his brilliance”says the philosopher.

If God rests, he is also in Jewish and then Christian traditions the one who is restless, since he perpetually supports Creation. “My Father is always at work, and I too am at work”, says Jesus in the Gospel of John (5, 17). Also, God’s rest is not inaction, which would simply be the negative of action.

It is above all charged with gratuity and blessing. Through the First Sabbath, wrote Jean-Louis Chretien in tiredness, “The history of man begins with rest, vacation and gratuity. The man ain’t done nothing yet (…) there is nothing to rest from. All the other Sabbaths in history will also be repair and repair of the forces dispensed to work. But the former neither compensates nor rewards anything. It is neither labor nor deliverance from labor that is blessed and sanctified. The first day is “day of celebration”. This rest which is then neither for God nor for man the opposite of fatigue, this vigilant rest is a pure yes. »


The quote

“The delights of God are to converse with hearts. This is his resting place. »

Father Louis Lallemant (1588-1635), Jesuit

Spiritual Doctrine.

Spirituality: on the seventh day, when God rests