On Going Home at the End of the Day: A Theology of Leaving

There are times when teachers teach lessons that they have not themselves fully learned. Most who know me will read this essay and probably retort, “physician heal thyself” due to the schedule I keep. To them I’ll offer no rebuttal, but I will try harder to take my own advice, which I hope is good medicine for us all.

Human labor is a task inherently unfinished. Some work, like farming, building, and sundry domestic tasks, ebb and flow with the rhythm of life. Seasons come and go, and planting and harvesting are ongoing within that natural cycle. Builders build buildings, and they are occupied and used, repaired and renovated, and eventually replaced – the labor of building appears ceaseless. As long as there is human life there is laundering, cleaning, and cooking – little seems truly completed.

There are some tasks that have natural endings. A first grade teacher teaches a group of youngsters over a given period of time, and then that task ends. Yet, the training of these youngsters continues, grade by grade until their education is complete. The boat builder doesn’t work on the same boat forever; a boat is built, put into service, and the builder moves along to the next boat. In this instance, while a task is completed, labor does not cease. Even in what we moderns call “retirement” there are labors that continue, and the need for the work that supports human existence is interminable.

These realities put some humans in a bit of a quandary, since bringing something to completion is necessary for their happiness. I don’t consider happiness a bad thing; I believe we were made to be happy. In fact, “blessedness” – being in the presence of God and his good for us – is “happiness.” And if finishing tasks, as a part of ordering the world God has created, is a part of one’s happiness, then unfinished work is bound to be a frustration to some at times. So, at the end of day, one may be confronted with the prospect of either leaving the office with tasks yet unfinished, or staying, forsaking other obligations and other goods, in order to finish a task. This essay is written to help sort out this very real, very common matter of life. I want to suggest three reasons the laborer should be content to turn out the lights at day’s end and happily journey home.

First, the Christian doctrine of creation indicates a rhythm of work and rest that is rooted in divine creation itself. The Genesis narrative is a story of divine work and divine rest. It is notable that God does not create the world in one day, nor has Christian theology generally accepted a doctrine of “simultaneous” creation. Scripture reveals that God created over a period of time. God’s creation of matter itself, and his forming and filling of the earth and all that is in it, occurs over time. Time is marked by evening and morning, framing for us that basic unit of time in which is situated our “work day.” God himself works within time, both creating the natural temporal rhythm and working within that rhythm to fashion the heavens and the earth.

Admittedly, God’s labor is marked by rest at the completion of this work, a truth that may indicate the necessity to postpone the cessation of labors until a project is complete. In this case, one might find a rationale for working day and night in order to complete an important task, which may be necessary at times. But, I believe this is the wrong conclusion to draw with respect to the normal ordering of life. The divine pattern of completing creation and subsequent rest is analogous to the human lifetime in this age and rest in the age to come, a rest entered into by means of Christ’s redemption (Hebrews 4). While this does produce an analogy for our daily life, it is not that we are to postpone rest until we complete our labors, rather it is that rest will come for the one who trusts in the Creator. While there are circumstances in life that require us to work unceasingly to accomplish certain vital tasks (in one of those cases that we might properly term an “emergency” or “crisis”), the better paradigm for thinking about human existence is the clear pattern of night and day, which indicates the pattern of rest and work.

In fact, our theological reflection (in the sense of reflection upon God) should lead us to recognize that God himself has not chosen to accomplish everything in one day, one week, month, or year. Not only does God’s creative work occur over time, but His providential work of bringing all things to His good end occurs over millennia. Since God himself does not accomplish all his purposes in one day, it seems odd that His people might fret, forsake rest, and live disordered lives to do what God himself has chosen not to do. What God could do, He does not, and what we cannot do, we attempt to do, to our own detriment.

Second, we should recognize, as I stated at the outset, that human labor is by its nature mostly unfinished business. It is one of the exigencies of temporality that many of the tasks we pursue are, for the largest part of their duration, unfinished. It is true that certain work is done over the short term while other work is a long term project. If, for example I set out to grill a cheese sandwich, I have good reason to believe I will complete that labor in the short term, lest I end up with a grilled cheese blackened beyond description or usefulness. Yet other tasks are longer term propositions. Building a new house is not a task quickly completed, and it requires a series of starts and stops, day by day, in which workers determine to finish certain things and leave other things to be completed in due order. Part of the process of work, therefore, is the messy “unfinishedness” of our labors that tend to keep us in the office “after hours.” Some of us will do well to learn to leave what is unfinished for another day, and to rest well in spite of our dissatisfaction with what is undone.

Finally, I suggest that leaving the office at the end of the day, and the rest that we pursue subsequent to that departure, is a sign of trust in God. It is so in that we are willing to labor hard during the day, and then leave what is unfinished for the day following, trusting that God will sustain us to do so, or indicate that there is other work to be done or, ultimately, that our labors in this age have come to an end. I am not suggesting, of course, that this way of thinking be used as an excuse for laziness. I am suggesting that an honest day’s work deserves to be followed by genuine rest, because that is the way God designed His world in which we live. At the very least, our other callings, beyond our “job”, await us at the end of the work day, and they deserve our attention. Otherwise, the laborer may forsake the calling to family, to church, to friendship, etc. in order to complete that project at work. While there may be certain situations that require us to work long into the night to complete a task, the pattern of our work should be consistent with the rhythm of day and night, of work and rest, that is implicit in creation. To do otherwise could constitute a lack of faith and could be an act of disobedience. In the end, conscience will be the guide for each person, but we should not fail to give careful thought to some of these theological considerations as we contemplate going home at end of day.

The 2008 Edition of The Journal of Baptist Studies

The 2008 edition of The Journal of Baptist Studies has now been published. JBS is an autonomous, peer-reviewed scholarly journal in Baptist history and historical theology that was launched in 2007. JBS is an online journal that is published once a year, normally in early December. JBS is part of a broader website titled Baptist Studies Online, which also includes Baptist primary sources, links to Baptist study centers and archival repositories, and announcements related to the field. Southeastern Seminary provides financial support for Baptist Studies Online and JBS.

The bad news is that publication of the 2008 JBS was delayed about six weeks due to technical difficulties. The good news is that those technical problems expedited a redesign of the entire Baptist Studies Online website, which is a vast improvement over the previous site. I hope you will take a few moments and check out the website, particularly JBS. You can read the table of contents for the 2008 edition below.

The Journal of Baptist Studies
Volume 2 (2008)

Editorial

Articles

“Service is Not Slavery: A Review of Recent Literature on Women in the Southern Baptist Convention”
By April Armstrong, pp. 2-15

“Southern Baptist Faith in Black and White after World War II: An Examination of Recent Monographic Literature”
By Edward R. Crowther, pp. 16-26

“The 1919 Statement of Belief and the Tradition of Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries”
By Jeffrey R. Riddle, pp. 27-43

Book Reviews

Chute, Anthony L. A Piety Above the Common Standard: Jesse Mercer and Evangelistic Calvinism, by Steve Weaver

Flynt, Wayne. Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, by John A. Nixon

Nettles, Tom J. By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, by Tony Chute

Shurden, Walter B. Not An Easy Journey: Some Transitions in Baptist Life, by Nathan A. Finn

Stricklin, David. A Genealogy of Dissent: Southern Baptist Protest in the Twentieth Century, by Aaron Weaver

Thompson, James J. Jr. Tried as by Fire: Southern Baptists and the Religious Controversies of the 1920s, by Mark Rogersmobi game

Global Context Series (South Asia): Freedom at Midnight

Editor’s Note: This series of posts deals with the global context in its historical, social, cultural, political, economic, demographic, and religious dimensions. We will provide book notices, book reviews, and brief essays on these topics. We hope that you will find this series helpful as you live and bear witness in an increasingly complex and hyper-connected world.

Book: Freedom at Midnight
Region: South Asia
Countries: India & Pakistan
Length: 572 pages
Difficulty: Intermediate

At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, India was set free from British rule and at the same time was partitioned into the two autonomous nations of India and Pakistan. In Freedom at Midnight, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre deliver a fast-paced and intimate account of these events, focused on India’s last British viceroy Louis Mountbatten and India’s spiritual leader Mahatma Ghandi, but laced with stories about the Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Hindu statesman Jawaharlal Nehru, and other major players.

The authors view this series of events as the greatest and most complex “divorce” in history. In the first chapter, the authors write, What should have been Britain’s finest hour in India seemed destined to become a nightmare of unsurpassed horror. She had conquered and ruled India with what was, by the colonial standard, relatively little bloodshed. Her leaving threatened to produce an explosion of violence that would dwarf in scale and magnitude anything she had experienced in three and a half centuries there.

This divorce, and the ensuing bloodbath, would center on the ages-old rivalry between India’s Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The leaders of India’s 100 million Moslems now demanded that Britain destroy the unity she had so painstakingly created and give them an Islamic state of their own. The cost of denying them their state, they warned, would be the bloodiest civil war in Asian history. Just as determined to resist their demands were the leaders of the Congress Party, representing most of India’s 300 million Hindus. To them, the division of the subcontinent would be a mutilation of their historic homeland, an act almost sacrilegious in its nature. Britain was trapped between these two apparently irreconcilable demands.

In response to the demands of Jinnah and the Muslim league, Britain decided to partition India so that Muslims would have their own country. However, this concession did not allow them to circumvent a bloody civil war. When the clock struck midnight on August 15, the people of India celebrated independence, but their euphoria was shattered when Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs killed one another until the streets ran red with their blood. In the face of some of the most appalling massacres in human history (leaving several hundred thousand dead), the authors show the efforts of Gandhi, the Mountbattens, Nehru, and others, to restore some semblance of peace and order. Gandhi, in the last great act of his life before being assassinated by a group of Hindu radicals, embarked upon “fasts to death,” and was able to bring some peace to the isolated spots where he could be present personally. But ironically, it was the British, Indian, and Pakistani armies that had to be brought in to maintain order.

The authors manage to leaven the gruesome historical account with lively and sometimes humorous character portraits of the major characters. For example, early in the third chapter, we learn of Gandhi’s half-naked visit to the King of England: He had walked off his steamer in his loincloth and carrying his bamboo stave. Behind him there were no aides-de-camp, no servants, only a handful of disciples and a goat, who tottered down the gangplank right after Gandhi….To the awe and astonishment of a watching British nation, Mahatma Ghandi walked into Buckingham Palace to take tea with the King-Emperor dressed in a loincloth and sandals….Later, when questioned on the appropriateness of his apparel, Ghandi replied with a smile, ‘The King was wearing enough for both of us.’ We learn of Gandhi’s daily life-of his vow to observe one day of silence each week to preserve vocal cords, of his daily prayer meetings and reading of the Bhagavad Gita, of his “fasts unto death” as a means of nonviolent resistance, of his habit of having a saltwater enema once a day, and so forth.

This brings us to the major flaw in the authors’ account. From early on in the story, it is clear that Gandhi is the hero of Collins’ and Lapierre’s account, while “religious antagonism” is the adversary. The authors see Gandhi, with his prayer meetings, fasting, and non-violent protests, as the Messiah of India, the solution to India’s (and perhaps the world’s) problems. Indeed, the final chapter, chronicling Gandhi’s death, is entitled, “The Second Crucifixion.”

The authors certainly are correct that religious antagonism is a bad thing, and they are right that Gandhi lived a more peaceful life and is a better character, than the other characters in this narrative. However, they fail to see the more central problem-the evil lurking in the souls of all humanity, and a man like Gandhi cannot himself be the remedy for such evil. Such an evil is deep and powerful and can be broken only by God Himself. While the authors speak of India’s partitioning as the great divorce, we know that the greater divorce happened at the Fall, that the Adversary of adversaries is Satan himself, and the true Messiah is Jesus Christ, who came to take away the sins of the world and who will one day bring a new heavens and a new earth, where there will be no more war. It is through Him, and through Him alone, that our world will see peace.

Further, Freedom at Midnight is not accurate at all points and the authors sometimes make novel or unique assertions without providing references. Nonetheless the book is very helpful. The reader receives a broad-brush overview of one of the most important years in world history as well as a picture of South Asia’s (1) mind-boggling diversity, including 15 official languages and 845 dialects; (2) the pervasive folk spirituality of its people; (3) the deep and abiding inter-religious conflict; (4) the abiding effects of colonial rule; and (5) intimate and illuminating portraits of several of South Asia’s most influential and enduring heroes.game online