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  • Jason Andersen

What's the use?

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:2–3

To rest from work means that time is reserved for divine worship: certain days and times are set aside and transferred to “the exclusive property of [God].”

Celebration of God in worship cannot be one unless it is done for its own sake.

Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper

We live in an extremely utilitarian world. This is not simply the purview of American culture though. It’s easy to complain about them out there. We also have a major problem of it as Christians. We’ve eaten up this bad part of our culture. At it’s most basic, there is a belief, understood generally as this: a thing is valuable only inasmuch as it produces something or does something for me. Now as Christians, we understand that we must worship God for his own sake (and not only because we owe our very selves to him). But in other areas of our lives, we are not so consistent. We often treat education as purely utilitarian. So a good piece of literature isn’t of much value besides fulfilling a state literature requirement (or simply because I’m following a certain curriculum that tells me to do it), and poetry is just a bother and of essentially no use, except maybe to fine-tune our brain a bit. Or in University, we get a Bachelor of Science because the liberal arts don’t get you anywhere job-wise. Throughout the whole of the education process, American culture is technically honed in on what gets people jobs like providing STEM education (and it is generally uneven at preparing humans for work anyways.) Around the world, the story is the same (and maybe worse). You’re relegated to professions (or at least your higher education) based on your test scores in middle and high school and everything is geared towards cultivating the profession you’re disposed to according to the test. Of course, in earlier generations you had less of a choice of your profession, and now it is your choice, and education is your ticket to getting the job you choose. It’s quite the story.

Utilitarianism is also alive and well in relationships. We treat our spouses and children in transactional ways-if you do this, I’ll do this. And we do it in a way that tries to get what we want out of the whole deal. And in politics, many people vote simply for the candidate who does the most for them. I suppose we could go on in our lives. Some utilitarianism is actually fine and well. We do need to prepare for our future work, so pursuing education that goes along with what you want to do isn’t a bad thing.

But we miss something when education is only about getting a job. This is where I think Classical Education philosophy isn’t so bad. They say something like this: Education is about forming the whole person. Education is about training desires, attitudes, and the heart. Education is about making men and women become fully human. And advocates for the liberal arts I think rightly say similar things: we teach the liberal arts (not usually to the exclusion of specialization) to prepare a student to be fully human in the world and to instigate wonder and appreciation of a broad set of subjects in God’s creation. Liberal arts prepare a student to be a better worker through providing a more well-balanced diet of everything.

In creation, God gave us this pattern of working 6 days and resting on the seventh. And on that seventh day, not only do we rest, but we worship. Pieper gave this nice illustration that this sacred seventh day is analogous to a temple. As the seventh day is time set apart for worship and fellowship with our God so was a temple a place set apart for worship and fellowship with God. There is no utility or use for the place of the temple apart from worship (unless a person makes a house of prayer a den of robbers). There is no utility for sabbath apart from worship.

And maybe one of the more freeing things about the Christian faith is the fact that because we have entered into the promised rest, we even in our labor are empowered and inspired towards worship. Now every day has become the seventh day. And every day is devoted to service and worship of God, empowered by his Holy Spirit. And the work that we engage in is done for the Lord Christ, so it is to be enjoyed for its own sake whether it is me writing or you washing the dishes or a mother or father helping their child not argue but speak words seasoned with grace (since this is quite a difficult labor). We can rest in these our works and enjoy them for their own sakes.

And then as we look into creation, and as we look at the craftsmanship of other humans, we can appreciate the beauty inherent in what has been made. So art needs no justification beyond that which inspires such an appreciation. And a novel whether a massive imaginarium like Lord of the Rings or something simple like A Man Called Ove is appreciated as it displays the creative genius God gave mankind. Of course, we can measure quality, but sometimes, we’ve got to take a step back and consider how a piece of craftsmanship displays God’s touch throughout all humanity. I can even appreciate the beauty of a maple log I split that soon I’ll throw into the fire to warm the hearth. And I can appreciate the drooping branches of the willow tree from my early childhood as well. Yet we must never forget from who all these blessing flow. Everything displays the glory of God, and the sky and earth proclaim his handiwork. Full stop. That’s it. And it’s just wonderful. So let’s join in worship.

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