An excerpt from the book “A Remnant in Crisis” by Jack W. Provonsha
From the book “A Remnant in Crisis” by Jack W. Provonsha. Copyright 1993 by Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Chapter 6 God Is Creator
For most of the movement’s history, emphasis has been placed on establishing the perpetuity of God’s ten-commandment law, including and especially the fourth commandment. We have exposed the biblical foundations for Sabbathkeeping, traced its history, noted the papal changes, and outlined the Sabbath’s role in the final polarization of the remnant and Babylon, resulting in a conflict between those who bear the seal of God (the Sabbath) and those who receive the mark of the beast (Sunday). A major motivation for our conservative treatment of the Genesis account of Creation has been our compulsion to preserve the Sabbath and its presupposing six-day Creation.
Unfortunately, this emphasis has failed to ensure Sabbathkeeping in the strictest sense. Many Adventists have come to think of Sabbathkeeping much as other Christians think of keeping Sunday, a time for play and relaxation and for “lay activities,” such as sleep. (Some Adventist “old-timers” are having trouble with a vision of the young amusing themselves playing ball, waterskiing, and the like on Sabbath afternoon — -with the apparent sanction of their elders who have their own equivalents. And some of them are wondering whether the Sabbath may be slipping through Adventist fingers.)
But the viability of the Sabbath does not depend upon earth-history, biblical apologetics, or historical church backgrounds — -as important as these may have been in establishing its factual reality. Having established its historicity beyond question, Seventh-day Adventists should now be concentrating on the meaning of the Sabbath and its role in what God is doing in the world. Proper Sabbathkeeping is not so simple as legalistic conformity to all the Ten Commandments.
In the Bible the Sabbath is referred to as a sign. “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Ex. 31:13). Recall our earlier observations about “saints,” as in “patience of the saints” in Revelation 14:12 [KJV].) It seems appropriate that the Sabbath should be the mark of a “set-apart” people in whatever age. “It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever” (Ex. 31:17) can apply to spiritual as well as to literal Israel. (Ezekiel 20:13, 20 reiterates what is said in Exodus 31.)
Some theologians make a useful distinction between “sign” and “symbol.” The two terms are alike in some ways, notably in their pointing function. Both gain their value because they refer to and stand for something else. They also share in their universality. Almost any entity — -abstract or concrete, object or action, thing or person — -can function as a sign or symbol. Examples are endless. They differ mainly in that signs are arbitrary. Signs bear no necessary relation to that to which they point. They are assigned to them. The so-called symbols of mathematics or given names in our society are good examples. X equals the unknown by convention. Z or Y could do quite as well. Given names are usually unconsciously derived from someone prominent in the news or from a favored relative perhaps. (In Bible times given names had greater significance. One’s name was almost equivalent to one’s self. The name of God was not to be spoken casually. There was “magic” in names.)
In contrast with signs, theological symbols bear a necessary relation to the thing symbolized. Nothing else will quite do. The symbol is essentially irreplaceable. Professor Tillich speaks of the symbol as “participating” in the thing symbolized. There are qualities in the symbol that necessarily correspond to that to which the symbol points.
The father “symbol” for God is a case in point — -not just the word. It could as well be padre, vater, wader, pater, or whatever. (Abba, or daddy, is a bit familiar for the Almighty.) These could all be “signs.” But the father role is a true symbol. The father-child relationship has qualities that are also those of the God-man relation. Sigmund Freud branded religion an illusion (The Future of an Illusion) based on half-forgotten images of our fathers that we project into the heavens. He was correct in his observation, but mistaken in his interpretation. God created fathers to provide an experience matrix that could be the basis for a child’s later perception of his or her heavenly Father. Ellen White tells us that parents are God to their children during their early years. This is so because the parental role is a true symbol, “participating” in the reality to which it points.
Time is an important symbol. Time is uncontrollable, incomprehensible, indefinable, and shares in these qualities with God. Augustine said of time, “When I think about it I don’t know what it is. When I don’t think about it I know what it is.” As one points to one moment it is already another, like Heraclitus’ stream. Time is the stuff of life. Time takes priority over all else. Time is sovereign. As to God so every creature is subject to time.
This is the essence of that special time that God created on the seventh day. Six days He created things in space. On the seventh day He created a moment of time and called it the Sabbath, a time for resting in His sovereign love.
The ineffable qualities of Sabbath time serve to condition God’s rational creatures in their relation to their Creator. Note this in connection with the difficulty experienced in establishing the temporal boundaries of the Sabbath day. The seven-day week differs essentially from all the other natural time-markers. A year, a month, even a day are all based on natural phenomena. But the Sabbath day depends upon a weekly cycle, and there is nothing in nature that establishes such a cycle. A Sabbath day might be derived from human need for recurring physical and spiritual respite. This has sometimes been put forward by Sunday observers as the basis for Sunday observance (e.g., in Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly). But the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible exists only by an act of the divine will — -because God said so. And He can say so because He is Creator.