(Bad) Theology on a Bookmark

I couldn’t find my copy of The Screwtape Letters which I have been reading with my English class so I picked up a Bible that was sitting close by.  As I was turning to Psalm 51 I came across a little slip of paper that someone had presumably used as a bookmark.  What was written on this bookmark caused a bit of a rant, and I never did get around to reading Psalm 51.

On the paper was the following information:




Sleeping – 7                                       God:

Eating – 2 hrs

School – 6 8 10

TV – 30min

Hobbies – 5 hrs

Total 1 = 24.5                                      Total 2 = 2hrs. per week

Between the list of daily activities on the left and God on the right, they had drawn a heavy line.

On the back the calculations continued:


Other things:                                       God:

Total 1: (24.5) x 365= A                     Total 2: (2) x 365 = B

A = 8942.5                                          B = 730

Minus 5 years from age                       – 5 years from age

A x 12 = 107310                                 B x 12 = 1251

Again, between these two sets of calculations was this heavy line.

I don’t claim to know the reason for these calculations.  My guess is that some well-meaning adult was trying to make the point with a group of young people–the point being they weren’t giving enough of their life over to God.  Sadly, this sort thinking is all too common in Christian circles and the young people have picked up on it, even if someone isn’t deliberately teaching it to them.  It starts with the premise that the things of God—spiritual things—are distinct from the things of life.  The child that made these calculations predictably fell far short of what God demands—God demands a lot, more than 1%.  Whether it is intended or not, the certain result is guilt.  With this approach, you can never escape the guilt.

What if this seventeen year old spent an hour a day in prayer and meditation instead of doing homework or wasting time on that hobby?  That’d certainly improve things, for now God would receive 5%.  Two and a half hours a day would get God around 10%; that’s like the tithe–would that be enough?

No.  God demands our all—everything–so 10% just won’t do it.  The problem is the line.  Unless you engage in some sort of focused devotional activity every minute of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year, you’d never be able to satisfy God’s demand on your life.  But, even Saint Theresa went to the bathroom.

So get rid of the line!  Hobbies and homework can’t be any less about God than singing and supplication.  The only way to give everything to God is to remove the line and let him have education and eating.  When stop separating the sacred from the secular, he gets both.  Or, to put it another way, when we give him both, the line disappears.

That morning in class, after I finished this little sermon, one clever image bearer asked, “How I can include God in my sleep—I can’t have Godly dreams every night.”

After a pause an idea came to me, and I turned to Psalm 1.  That didn’t help me a bit, because what I was looking for was in Psalm 4.

. . . crossing the line between sacred and secular

My thought is that our sleep becomes sacred when we adopt a Hebrew concept of the day.  This ancient concept is apparent in the ordering of Psalm 4 and Psalm 5.  Psalm 4 includes these lines: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 5 says, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”  The editors of the Psalms placed the evening poem before the Psalm of morning.  In Genesis 1 we find the same pattern.  The first day of creation is described and then it says, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”  A few verses later, the same thing, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.”  You get the idea; the day begins in the evening.  Anyone who has watched Tevye hurry home before nightfall in Fiddler on the Roof knows that the Sabbath starts on Friday night, but it’s not just the Sabbath Day that starts in the evening; in the culture from which the Bible came, every day starts in the evening.

Notice the difference that this configuration of the day makes regarding the significance of the individual human being.  In our culture, the day begins with me.  I wake up, and then the day begins.  I must be pretty important if the day—and you might as well say, the universe—doesn’t start until I roll out of bed.  It would be quite appropriate to declare upon waking, “I am here, and, thus, the day may now begin.”

Consider the Hebrew concept of the day starting in the evening.  The day starts when I stop.  The first seven hours of everyday have transpired while I drooled on my pillow.  But God hasn’t slept; He’s been at work through the night.  He has a plan and a pattern for the day and I join it, already in progress and fit into that plan.

I’ve been trying to live in Hebrew time for at least 10 years now, and every morning when I wake up, well almost every morning, I say, “Good morning, Lord.”

Understanding the day in this way reframes the seven hours that I sleep in that it reminds me of my cosmic insignificance in the context of His divine Providence.    It also reframes the hours I am awake.  It is a quotidian reminder and that the all-powerful king of the universe loves me because he’s there every morning to hear me say, “Good, morning Lord.”

1 Comment

  1. Have I accused you of being secretly Buddhist yet? Because this is a recurring theme in Zen. If you put the Buddha down when you’re done chanting, you’re not really practicing. If you hold the Buddha through mowing the lawn and making dinner and commenting on your friend’s blog, and then have no time left for chanting, that’s real practice, with a side of life. If you manage to do both today: don’t get cocky. Tomorrow is a another day.

    It’s the difference between religion and faith.

    (On another note, evidently that Bible you’re reading once belonged to a Jesuit.)


    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit

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