Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seven, Sloth, and Bavinck

The movie, Seven, starring Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey, has got to be one of the most tragic movies that has ever been made to pass before my eyes. It showcases this serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who goes about snuffing the life out of those he deems as prime incarnations of each of the classic "seven deadly sins." The movie concludes with the protagonist (Brad Pitt) putting a bullet in the antagonist's head, thereby giving the latter his desired ending, i.e., having the former succumb to rage (one of the seven deadly sins) and, consequently, suffer the legal consequences of extra-judicial killing (as if the brutal and grotesque murder of his wife and prenatal baby in the killer's hands was not suffering enough!). Of course, one of the victims was a supposedly slothful man who was tied up on his bed for a year, allowing his inactivity to kill him!

Sloth may be defined as the antithesis of industry, and what I have for you below is Herman Bavinck's theology of work:

The creation of man according to the image of God—we read in Genesis 1:26 and 28—had as its nearest purpose that man should fill, subdue, and have dominion over the earth. Such dominion is not a constituent element of the image of God. Nor does it, as some have maintained, constitute the whole content of that image. Moreover, it absolutely is not an arbitrary and incidental addendum. On the contrary, the emphasis that is placed upon this dominion and its close relationship with the creation according to the image of God indicate conclusively that the image comes to expression in the dominion and by means of it must more and more explain and unfold itself. Further, in the description of this dominion, it is plainly stated that to a certain extent it was, indeed, immediately given to man as an endowment, but that to a very great extent it would be achieved only in the future. After all, God does not say merely that He will make "men" in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26), but when He has made the first human couple, man and woman, He blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it (Gen. 1:28), and He further gave Adam the particular task of dressing and keeping the garden (Gen. 2:15).

All this teaches very plainly that man was not created for idleness but for work. He was not allowed to rest upon his laurels, but had to go straight into the wide world in order to subdue it to the power of his word and will. He was given a big, a widely distributed, a rich task on the earth. He was given an assignment which would cost him centuries of effort to accomplish. He was pointed in a direction incalculably far away which he had to take and which he had to pursue to the end. In short, there is a big difference and a wide separation between the condition in which the first man was created and the destination to which he was called. True, this destination is closely related to his nature, just as that nature is closely related to his origin, but there is distinction all the same. The nature of man, the essence of his being—the image of God according to which he was created—had to come to a constantly richer and fuller unfolding of its content by means of its striving towards its destination. The image of God, so to speak, had to be spread to the ends of the earth and had to be impressed on all the works of men's hands. Man had to cultivate the earth so that it would more and more become a revelation of God's attributes.

The dominion of the earth was therefore the nearest but not the sole purpose to which man was called. The nature of the case points to that fact. Work which is really work cannot have its end and final purpose in itself but always has as its further objective to bring something into being. It ceases when that objective has been reached. To work, simply to work, without deliberation, plan, or purpose, is to work hopelessly and is unworthy of rational man. A development which continues indefinitely is not a development. Development implies intention, course of action, final purpose, destination. If, then, man at his creation was called to work, that implies that he himself and the people who should issue from him should enter into a rest after the work.

The institution of the seven-day week comes to confirm and reinforce this conviction. In his work of creating God rested on the seventh day from all His work. Man, made in the image of God, immediately at the time of the creation gets the right and the privilege to follow in the Divine example in this respect also. The work which is laid upon him, namely, the replenishing and subduing of the earth, is a weak imitation of the creative activity of God. Man's work, too, is a work which is entered upon after deliberation, which follows a definite course of action, and which is aimed at a specific objective. Man is not a machine which unconsciously moves on; he does not turn about in a treadmill with an unchangeable monotony. In his work too man is man, the image of God, a thinking, willing, acting being who seeks to create something, and who in the end looks back upon the work of his hands with approbation. As it does for God Himself, man's work ends in resting, enjoyment, pleasure. The six-day week crowned by the Sabbath dignifies man's work, raises him above the monotonous movement of spiritless nature, and presses the stamp of a Divine calling upon it. Whoever, therefore, on the Sabbath day enters into the rest of God in accordance with His purpose, that person rests from his works in the same glad way as God rests from His (Heb. 4:10). This holds true of the individual and it also holds true of the church and of mankind generally. The world, too, has its world's work to perform, a work which is followed and concluded by a Sabbath. There remains a rest for the people of God. Each Sabbath Day is but an example and foretaste of it and at the same time also a prophecy and a guarantee of that rest (Heb. 4:9).

That is why the Heidelberg Catechism rightly says that God created man good and according to His own image in order that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify Him. The final purpose of man lay in the eternal blessedness, in the glorification of God in heaven and on earth. But in order to arrive at this end man first had to fulfill his task on earth. In order to enter into the rest of God he first had to finish God's work. The way to heaven goes through the earth and over the earth. The entrance to the Sabbath is opened by the six days of work. One comes to eternal life by way of work. (The Origin, Essence, and Purpose of Man)

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