Q1: I recently joined the church and was wondering what sorts of things my family and I shouldn’t do on the Sabbath. Some people are telling me my kids can’t play sports on Saturdays (which they’ve been doing for years), and others say it’s okay. I’m confused and certainly don’t want to upset God. Please advise.
A: Answering a question like this is difficult for several reasons. The most helpful answer would require more information, including the ages of your children, the nature of the sports they participate in, and your children’s relationship with their other parent. With the limited information I have, I offer three general statements on Sabbath observance. Each statement is accompanied by excerpts from the “Sabbath” section of the Church’s Systematic Theology Project (STP).
First, the Sabbath day, instituted at Creation, is a day set aside for rest and worship.
STP: “The Sabbath is a special day, a holy day, a day specifically devoted to God and spiritual matters. It is not a day for regular business (Is. 58:13) but a time to turn from the cares and concerns of the mundane life to the things of God. It is a day in which to rejoice, to enjoy, and to rest and have time for God and one’s family. The concept of rest does not necessarily mean inactivity though, since spiritual activity is quite important. Physical activity per se is not prohibited since certain kinds may be conducive to a better observance of the day (Mt. 12:1).”
STP: “The main concern of most scriptures pertaining to the Sabbath is that one should not pursue his usual business or work activities on that day. One should have more of God and less of himself in his thoughts on the Sabbath. It is a day to honor God, to remember His creation, and to rest. Obviously then, it should not be a day of violent physical activity of any kind—work or play. It is a day of restfulness. It is a time to unwind and draw close to God. One’s own thoughts of business, moneymaking, buying and selling, or one’s job should be minimized if not forgotten. The cares of the week are left behind. It is a day to ‘take it easy’ and to worship God. This is the spirit of the day.”
Second, a list of do’s and don’ts regarding Sabbath observance could lead to an unhealthy dependency upon the Church’s leadership.
STP: “It is not the responsibility of the Church to create an encyclopedic handbook for Sabbath observance. The Church teaches the broad principles and the members apply them in situations as they arise. The Church cannot legislate on every last situation that may be encountered. Each member must be educated and encouraged to make personal value judgments according to his own character and conscience within the general guidelines provided by the Church.”
Third, the Fourth Commandment does not forbid all activities, but each member has to use his or her own biblically informed judgment in determining which activities are acceptable.
STP: “This scripture—Isaiah 58:13—has been erroneously applied by some to such activities as television-viewing, swimming, listening to music, marital relations, and even reading the weekly, comics in the newspaper. Of course, any of these activities could violate the spirit of the Sabbath day if they were to be abused or overdone. Of and by themselves, though, they are not wrong. What is wrong is any activity that interferes with or detracts from the joy, rest, and spiritual intention of the day. If any activity works against the spirit of the Sabbath, it is wrong, no matter what it is.”
STP: “It is obviously out of step with the spirit of the Sabbath day to participate in violent physical sports activities. Can one ‘keep the Sabbath holy’ while charging down a football field or a basketball court? In competitive sports, one must go all out to the point of exhaustion to win. The Sabbath is a day of rest.”
Q2: In 2 Kings 2:11 it says this: “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (King James Version). In John 3:13, it tells us that no man has ascended up to heaven. How can this be possible if Elijah went to heaven? Is this a contradiction, or is there something I’m missing in the passage?
A: The word shamayim, translated “heaven” (literally, “heavens,” plural) in 2 Kings 2:11 and many other passages, can refer to the abode of God and the angels, or it can simply refer to the sky above. It’s the place where the winged creatures fly. It’s also the home of the sun, moon, stars, and clouds. Elijah, then, was taken into the sky.
We’re not told how high into the sky Elijah was taken; nor are we told whether or not Elijah stayed in the sky. Elijah was transported from one location to another, but nothing in the text indicates that he was taken to the abode of God and the angels. He could have been transported to a different place on this earth. In fact, there is evidence that Elijah was taken to another earthly location. Several years after the prophet was taken away, the wicked king Jehoram received a letter from Elijah warning the king of the consequences of his sins (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). Obviously, Elijah was still on earth years after he “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
The “heaven” of John 3:13 is the abode of God, not the “heaven” where the winged creatures fly or where the stars are located. Jesus’ point is that He has authority to speak of “heavenly things” (see verse 12) because He is from heaven. “I came from the Father and have come into the world,” He said. “Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:28). Clearly, the “heaven” Jesus was from and to which He returned was the Father’s abode, a “heaven” different from the one Elijah went into when the whirlwind took him away.