Does Playing Zelda Count As Sabbath?

While I’m not an avid player of video games, I have a soft spot in my heart for The Legend of Zelda. When my children were little, my wife gave me the new Nintendo Wii with the latest version. I discovered a brilliant parenting hack.

My young children loved watching me play Zelda. That meant I could watch the kids, play a video game, and give my wife a break all at the same time. Everybody won. What an incredible deal!

Here’s my question: Was I resting? Did playing video games, while my children watched excitedly, count as what God had in mind when he encouraged his creation to “honor the Sabbath?”

There’s no question we need rest. Our bodies get tired; our minds start to fade and our energy wanes. The need to rest is an inescapable part of what it means to be human. But what does rest really look like? What counts as rest?

Just as technology has changed so many other parts of our daily experience, it has also transformed our notions of rest. Does working from home count? Going for a run? A hard workout at the gym? Watching Netflix? Is rest the same as recreation or entertainment or distraction?

The biblical account of creation records a surprising activity on the final day of the story.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.     — Genesis 2:1-2

It’s curious that an all-powerful God would need to rest. We need to rest because we can’t keep going. But God didn’t get tired. He didn’t rest up for the sake of having more energy to continue creating in the morning. God rested for one simple reason: his work was complete.

Shortly after getting married, my wife and I had a picnic at a park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We had recently graduated college, and I was working at a job in software development. I remember a thought occurring to me as I lay on a blanket in the sun: this is the first Saturday I’ve ever had.

All my life I’d been in school and never experienced actual rest. As a student, you don’t rest — you procrastinate. There is always something to complete. But here I was, lying on a blanket in the grass eating sandwiches with my wife with nothing else to do. It was glorious.

If God rested on the seventh day, what did he do the next morning? Are we only able to rest if we have no work to do? That first Saturday I ever had may also have been my last. With five children, I can’t remember the last time my work was complete. So how do I rest?

It could be we have misunderstood the nature of God’s rest. Maybe God’s rest doesn’t mean he stopped doing things. Maybe he did something else entirely.

In The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton highlights the abundant temple imagery used throughout the creation process. He suggests on the seventh day, the story describes God entering his temple and taking his seat on the divine throne. In the ancient world, the gods sat in their temples as rulers over their domain. Thus, God’s rest on the seventh day may picture him assuming his role as ruler over creation rather than taking a break from his labor.

Walton suggests we might view rest as “engagement without obstacles” rather than “disengagement without responsibilities.” For God to rest meant everything was in place for him to rule his kingdom. There were no enemies, opponents, or complications. Everything was as it should be.

We recently had some work done on our home. Landscapers, painters, and roofers regularly interrupted us.  Nothing could proceed normally while the house was in transition. But once it was completed, everything fell into place.

This could be what the Bible describes as God resting. With the preparatory work of creating complete, the real, more fulfilling work of ruling creation can begin.

Other biblical references to rest reinforce this idea. In 1 Kings 8:56, God gives rest to his people by removing their enemies. In Ruth 1:9, Naomi wishes for her daughters-in-law to find rest in the home of new husbands. The life of an ancient near Eastern wife was hardly filled with inactivity: their rest was to be in a place of stability and promise. When Jesus offers his followers rest in Matthew 11:29, he follows it with an invitation to take up his yoke: hardly a picture of leisure.

Maybe we ought to consider rest as the enjoyment of everything being in its proper place, rather than a life of inactivity. If that’s the case, then how might our technology allow us to rest? How might technology enable us to work in more fruitful, productive and meaningful ways?

In the middle of the 19th century, a new machine transformed the social fabric of society. Few inventions have had more significant effects on the nature of family, work, gender, and culture. The washing machine automated the simple, but relentless and laborious, task of cleaning clothes. Very quickly, this meant the women who had spent the majority of their day on this task had a whole new set of options.

Did these women retire to a life of inactivity because their work was complete?

Listen to this comment on a TED talk about the magic washing machine.

“My mother bought our first washing machine in September 1985 – we were a poor family living in inner London and my mother spent most of the weekend washing our clothes in the bathtub until that autumn day. Shortly after the washing machine arrived, my mother got herself a job at a local school. Last year, she was commended for 25 years continuous service in that school. Since retirement she has become an activist for older peoples’ services in her borough.”

The washing machine didn’t allow people to rest from their work. It allowed them to find rest in more meaningful efforts. In my family, I do laundry, my children do laundry, and my wife does laundry. We can all do laundry, but it doesn’t monopolize any of our energies. Technology has given us rest to pursue other activities with our time.

Any search on the relationship between technology and rest yields a consistent result. Everyone from pastors to rabbis to corporate executives to parental gurus is urging us to find a way to rest from our technology. A group calling themselves the Sabbath Manifesto encourages people to take a 24 hour period away from their personal technology. They’ll even provide a cozy sleeping bag for your smartphone to keep it warm while you ignore it.

While such efforts are worthwhile — we certainly need to learn to put down our phones — perhaps they are missing something. We don’t just need to rest from our technology. We have the opportunity to use and create technology capable of giving us the kind of rest God intended.

If God has installed us rulers over his creation, could technology help us to occupy our thrones in more meaningful ways? Could we rest, not by stopping our work, but by creating more opportunities for “engagement without obstacles”?

Back to my original question. I’m skeptical entertaining my kids while playing Zelda is anything like the rest God enjoyed on the seventh day. But perhaps it isn’t too far off. Saving the princess, defeating the monsters, and restoring peace to the kingdom leads to a kingdom at rest. We do that in video games. Can we do it in real life?

Father to five; husband to one; helping Christians engage thoughtfully as they follow Jesus Christ.

Pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA since 2007. Graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for Oracle Corporation as a Senior Product Manager designing software solutions.

Join the Conversation