God in Creation, Moltmann
Moltmann’s book, God in Creation, seeks to encourage Christians to bring reverence for the life of every living thing into the adoration of God and thus guard against the tendency to make a distinction between God and the world. In a chapter entitled ‘The Feast of Creation’ Moltmann argues that there is a need to return to the doctrine of the sabbath. This is ultimately because, he argues, it is through the peace of the sabbath that Christians can find the peace with nature many seek. Christian theology has tended to put less emphasis on the doctrine of the sabbath in favour of the doctrine of creation. The concept of a ‘Creative’ God has become dominant, whilst the notion of a God who rests on the sabbath, who delights in his creation, has receded. Moltmann argues however that the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the sabbath belong together, and that this is supported by biblical tradition. Ultimately it is the sabbath which reveals the world’s identity as creation, sanctifies and blesses it. It is on and through the sabbath that God completed creation, men/women perceive creation as a reality and the redemption of the world is celebrated in anticipation. One of Moltmann’s central points is that the sabbath should be understood as both the feast of creation and of creation’s redemption.
The goal and completion of every Jewish and every Christian doctrine of creation must be the doctrine of the sabbath; for on the sabbath and through the sabbath God ‘completed’ his creation, and on the sabbath and through it, men and women perceive as God’s creation the reality in which they live and which they themselves are. The Sabbath opens creation for its true future. On the sabbath the redemption of the world is celebrated in anticipation. The Sabbath is itself the presence of eternity in time, and a foretaste of the world to come. The observance of the sabbath became the identifying mark of Jews in excile; and in the same way, the doctrine of the sabbath of creation becomes the identifying mark of the biblical doctrine of creation, distinguishing it from the interpretation of the world as nature. It is the sabbath which manifests the world’s identity as creation, sanctifies it and blesses it.
Curiously enough, in the Christian traditions, and especially the traditions of the western church, creation is generally only presented as the ‘six days’ work’. The ‘completion’ of creation through ‘the seventh day’ is much neglected, or even overlooked altogether. It would seem as if Christian theology considered that both the sabbath and commandment to Israel and the sabbath of creation were repealed and discarded when Jesus set aside the Sabbath commandment by healing the sick on that day. As a result, God is viewed as the one who in his essential being is solely ‘the creative God’, as Paul Tillich says; and it follows from this that men and women too can only see themselves as this God’s image if they become ‘creative human beings’. The God who ‘rests’ on the sabbath, the blessing and rejoicing God, the God who delights in his creation, and in his exultation sanctifies it, receded behind this different concept. So for men and women too, the meaning of their lives is identified with work and busy activity; and rest, the feast, and their joy in existence are pushed away, relegated to insignificance because they are non-utilitarian.
But according to the biblical traditions creation and the sabbath belong together. It is impossible to understand the world properly as creation without a proper discernment of the sabbath. In the sabbath stillness men and women no longer intervene in the environment through their labour. They let it be entirely God’s creation. They recognise that as God’s property creation is inviolable, as they sanctify the day through their joy in existence as God’s creatures within the fellowship of creation.
The peace of the sabbath is peace with God first of all. But this divine peace encompasses not merely the soul but the body too; no merely individuals but family and people; not only human beings but animals as well; not living things alone, but also, as the creation story tells us the whole creation of heaven and earth. That is why the sabbath peace is also the beginning of that peace with nature which many people are seeking today, in the face of the growing destruction of the environment. But there will never be peace without the experience and celebration of God’s sabbath.
If we look at the biblical traditions that have to do with the belief in creation, we discover that the sabbath is not a day of rest following six working days. On the contrary: the whole work of creation was performed for the sake of the sabbath. The Sabbath is the ‘feast of creation’, as Franz Rosenzweig says. It was for the sake of this feast day of the eternal God that heaven and earth were created, with everything that exists in them and lives. So although the creation story tells us that each day was followed by a night, God’s sabbath knows no night but becomes the ‘feast without end’.
The feast of creation is the feast of completion or consummation – the consummation of creation which is realized through this feast. Because this consummation of creation in the Sabbath also represents Creation’s redemption – the redemption enabling it to participate in God’s manifested, eternal presence – it will also be permissible for us to understand the Sabbath as the feast of redemption. But if, as the feast of creation, it is also already the feast of creation’s redemption, it is understandable that the whole of creation should have been brought into being for the sake of that redemption. ‘The sabbath is the feast of creation’ writes Franz Rosenzweig, ‘but a creation which took place for the sake of the redemption. It is manifested at the end of creation, and manifested as creation’s meaning and destination.’
Questions for reflection
- Moltmann puts emphasis on taking time to appreciate Creation, and the Sabbath as a means to achieve this. Do you think our modern society gives enough the time to appreciate nature?
- When was the last time you paused to appreciate Creation? Can you think of a time you were in nature when you sensed God’s presence or felt especially close to God?
- When we read the opening of Genesis, did you take time to consider the importance of the seventh day of creation? Do you think differently about it now?
- Do you agree with Moltmann’s premise that the goal of the Christian doctrine of creation must be the doctrine of the sabbath?
Jurgen Moltmann (1993) The Trinity and The Kingdom
Jurgen Moltmann (1974) The Crucified God
Jurgen Moltmann (2000) God in Creation