In the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character reflects upon his life and recognizes he suffers from a certain kind of neurosis – one which assumes at the youthful age of 25 that his present singleness is inevitably unending. I, like many others, tend to assume the same thing about theology. Present ignorance somehow leads to the belief that I must give myself to an onslaught of neurotic reading habits to somehow make up for lost time – lest I be “single” (read ignorant) forever. This disposition is enslaved to a subconscious belief that there is a hidden wormhole in the fabric of the creature-Creator distinction which I can access through sheer fortitude, and, in a moment always eluding my grasp, will one day deliver me to an infinite knowledge of all things.
But, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, there is a sabbath rest for the people of God. Sabbath, for those of us who suffer from this kind of theological anxiety, is a submission to finitude – a time to rest in our calling as broken witnesses and to put down our strategies to undo our creatureliness. It is a sacrifice of our desire for transcendence and an acceptance of the real messy, broken finitude of our existence. This, I suggest, should be spurred on by our relation to the ecclesial community in which we partake as theologians – feeling the weight of the mundane as we secretly wish to disappear to our office and read something interesting (as opposed to, to use Eugene Peterson’s example, talk to some lady about her cat).
In a moment of reflection, Cusack’s character muses about his past relationships, and notes that he always had one foot out the door to consider other (and presumably better), options, which he suggests, is suicide in tiny increments. In a similar way, and with the same incremental death, a failure to heed the rest of Sabbath as a theologian is the attempt to build a Tower of Babel from the stacks of books we so proudly display, the lines on our C.V. we are so excited to add, and the growing obscurity of our interests which we relish to expand like the borders of Jabez’s dominion.
Sabbath rest is a practical corollary to the Creator-creature distinction, where creatures submit to their Creator through a wholesale acceptance of creatureliness. Sabbath rest, therefore, as a call to embrace our creatureliness, follows the contours of created reality through an imitatio Dei. It is being like God as a creature, rather than, as the temptation of Eden reveals, being like God as God. The embrace of the fruit of Eden is the continual rejection of creatureliness which fuels much theological endeavour, not the least of which is the temptation to cure our theological ineptitudes and anxieties through brute force and will. It is the theologian who embraces their anthropological weakness who will know, following Paul, God’s theological strength. The Sabbath rest for the theologian is submitting to wisdom for the renewal of one’s mind along the contours of God’s self-revelation in Christ, whereby we come to know dependence in the very act of mortifying independence.
This will mean, to pick back up on Eugene Peterson, that we come to practice speaking the “words of the kingdom” in everyday conversations with old women about their cats, with widows about their t.v. shows and with the youth about their favorite superheroes. Sabbath rest for the theologian, in part, will be a reintergration into the community where normal people live and move and have their being – as a reminder that this is our community and our life – which is, in reality, more real than the academic world which seems to have more to offer.