Easily the best book I read during the recently departed year was James W. Skillen, God’s Sabbath with Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled. Although Skillen is well-known as a political scientist and retired leader of the Center for Public Justice in the United States, in his latest book he turns his attention to that branch of theology known as eschatology, or the study of the last things. In so doing, he has come up with an intriguing approach that feels fresh but is in reality utterly faithful to Scripture and to the historic creeds. Based on a deep reading of the Bible and of several prominent theologians, Skillen identifies our ultimate destiny in Christ as entering into God’s Sabbath rest.
Accordingly, he begins with a treatment of the days of creation outlined in the first two chapters of Genesis, arguing that they are less temporal periods as we understand days than a description of the very structure of God’s creation. Light and darkness are first-day creatures, the waters above and below the earth are second-day creatures, the dry land a third-day creature, and so forth. Because the solar-lunar order arrives only with the fourth day, we obviously cannot read God’s days as our own days. Neither can these creation days be said to have ended, as do our days. In so far as the seas exist, they exist as second-day creatures, meaning that the second day continues as an integral part of creation.
Along with animals, we human beings are sixth-day creatures. But we are much more; we are seventh-day creatures predestined by God to enter into his eschatological rest, when our sixth-day responsibilities in this life will find their ultimate fulfilment. “The creation reaches its climax not with the process of work, as honorable as that is, but with its completion and reward through Christ Jesus as part of the fulfilment of the entire creation in God’s day of rest.” This fulfilment is not an extra bonus to our life in this world. It is not an emergency measure adopted only after our first parents sinned and fell from grace. From the very outset God created us to enter into his rest on that seventh day. The seventh day, in other words, is built by God into the very structure of his creation, and we look with hope to its coming.
Sixth-day creation is by nature perishable, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15, where he likens our current physical bodies to a seed: “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body… I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
None of this means that we deprecate the concerns of the present sixth-day creation because something better awaits us. Our sixthday labours continue to glorify God, and we should remain busy with them even as we look forward to their fulfilment, as the author of Hebrews affirms (10:23-25).
During a phone conversation with Skillen last year, he indicated to me that this book was half a century in the making and represents decades of reflection that began when he was a seminary student. Indeed this is evidently not the sort of monograph that one could put together in a few years, and I think it may prove to be his most important work yet. Although it is not especially difficult reading, it is not a book to be rushed through. It needs to be savoured slowly and with careful attention. If you’re currently reading another book, do put it aside and read God’s Sabbath with Creation. Yes, it’s that good.