One day soon, rest will be not only the stream of living water within, but the sea of living water without. We will walk through a world where rest rises from the soil and drops from the clouds. For the Lord of the Sabbath himself will reign in that land, bringing the seventh day back to an earth even better than Eden. He is the “ocean depth of happy rest,” as the hymn puts it, and forever his waves will wash over us.
If you could capture in a word what it feels like to live as a fallen human, far from Eden, what might you say? Sorrowful, perhaps, or broken. Frustrating. Dark. There’s no one right answer. But one of the most profound appears in the famous opening lines of Augustine’s Confessions: restless. “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (1.1.1).
Deep in the human soul, a spirit of restlessness runs like an underground river: often unseen, often unrecognized, often denied, yet rumbling beneath so much of what we say, dream, and do.
We easily mistake the bone-deep gnaw for something more superficial. We need a few days off, we think — or a better work-life balance, or a new job or apartment, or more recognition from our peers, or more understanding from our spouse. The advertising industry taps into the ache and offers a thousand ways to dam the restless flow: new experiences, new places, new things. Sometimes we buy it.
These are whispers, snatches, songs in the wind: echoes of the thing we want, but not the thing itself. They may bring a measure of rest to mind or body (for a time), but they can no more dam the river than a stick can stop the Niagara. We long for something deeper.
We want a rest that lasts beyond certain times (nights, weekends) and extends beyond certain places (bed, vacation spots). We want a rest that leads us like a pillar of fire and follows us like the goodness and mercy of God. We want a rest that wells up from within like living water. We want an unending Sabbath of the soul.
Our Aching Restlessness
But why the ache? Why the inner gnaw? Why the endless running restlessness?
In the beginning, God weaved rest into the fabric of his unfallen world. Soul deep and heaven high, rest filled Eden’s very air. For God, after working for six days, crowned creation with the seventh: “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2). “It is finished,” God said, and all creation enjoyed his rest.
But the garden is long gone now. And between us and Eden’s rest stand cherubim holding a flaming sword (Genesis 3:24). When Adam and Eve left Eden’s gates, they left not only a place, but a whole posture of soul. They left the restful garden and entered a world without the seventh day.
Outside God’s presence, our little attempts at rest — our sleep-ins and successes, our days off and entertainments, our life balances and purchases — are so many seeds planted in granite. We sow and dig and water, but the soil of our souls can’t hold the seeds; we look for rest and reap restlessness.
Exiled from Eden, we need the God of the garden to once again become our God; we need the Lord of rest to be our Lord and Rest.
Hope eventually came in the form of a commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” God told an Israel freshly redeemed from Egypt, that land of anti-Eden restlessness.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 20:8–11)