From Amusement to Amazement
by Patrick Lafferty
. . .but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work. . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Though our budgets may have tightened in recent years, it’s a good bet that one line item remains, even if its corresponding expenditures have had to be curtailed: entertainment. We may be spending less on amusements and recreations, but there’s still no shortage of them. Access to such, in fact, may never have been greater—proportional to the creative means we employ to get access to them for less money.
But author Richard Winter notes a startling irony of an entertainment-saturated context: even with the glut of opportunity to escape into nearly anything that tickles your fancy, the experience of boredom seems not to have slackened at all. So goes the thesis of his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment. Though those in the entertainment industry find new ways to dazzle our senses with each passing year, the very fact that they must find fresh ways is indicative of how easily—and inevitably, it would seem—our enthusiasm for things deteriorates over time, provoking an unending cycle of malaise and craving for new stimulation.
That experience of boredom and the corresponding hunger for new amusements may explain why the entertainment industry is as likely to fail as the oil industry. It may also explain why the place of the Sabbath has become so marginal to the thinking of most Christians. Whether we’re busier than previous generations is a matter of reasonable debate, but the sheer volume of responsibilities—the fragmented lives we lead—lead us to crave anything that can whisk us away from our troubles. In turn we may have come to draw the relationship between pure recreation and true rest too tightly and too reductively.
Pastor Mark refreshed our memory last Sunday about the place of the Sabbath in the life of the Spirit. Too often we’ve let our thoughts about the day of rest become too narrowly focused on mere abstention—all that we’re not to do. While the command to observe the Sabbath entails abstention it is far more than abstention. For abstention, like opportunity costs in economic terms, represents refraining for the purpose of redirecting our focus and our energies. In suspending our attention to some things we give our attention to other things—things which are intended (and promised) to refresh, replenish, rejuvenate.
Winter reminds us that while real leisure can be found in a myriad of forms, an even more substantial leisure is to be found in what the Sabbath seeks to provide. For, as Jesus reminds, the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). Our recreations often reflect an unconscious attempt to escape, for a while, what we cannot and should not avoid. “Often we are afraid to ‘be still,’” Winter argues, “because the endless distractions of busyness and entertainment keep us from having to face fundamental questions about our existence and about our deeper anxieties, insecurities, and fears.” So how does the Sabbath refresh our souls as it reframes our perspective on what so relentlessly unnerves us?
It bids us to cordon off our attention, to stare, as it were, at the goodness and beauty around us—the simple things wondrously appointed for us to sample with all our senses. But the Sabbath also asks us to consider the Author of the beauty, the Sustainer of what does refresh us even in a world fraught with frustration, tragedy, and sorrow (Romans 8:20).
Connecting in our minds what to us is beautiful to Him that makes it beautiful does not come without humbling ourselves enough to pause and wonder. And that is why our attention has to fall—unhurriedly, like following the contours of a river from high atop a mountain—on the greatest reason for our consolation in God. The Sabbath renews our vision of His limitless kindness in Christ—a kindness that makes some amusements pale, and others that actually lead us to praise Him.
Scripture gives no slight to the place of merriment in life. There are feasts aplenty finding their way not only into the narrative of the Bible but into God’s directives as well. How many times do we find Jesus letting banquets become the setting for His insights? (And don’t forget where the first miracle occurred—a wedding feast!). Yet while God is no festal killjoy He has stipulated another kind of feasting—another kind of refreshment—that requires a specified object of attention and an attentiveness pure spectating does not oblige.
Has mere amusement become a substitute for amazement at The Substitute? It will not come with the same immediacy, nor is it as manipulable, as other forms of refreshment. But the attention urged by the Sabbath offers a more lasting rest because it heralds that more enduring rest (Hebrews 4:1-11) other amusements whisper too faintly of.