Dr. Boris Prezel, president of the New York Academy of Sciences, recently predicted that automatic devices and utilization of atomic energy will in a very short time make it unnecessary for anyone to work more than twenty hours a week. In commenting on this possible change from a 40-hour week to a 20-hour week, he observed, "When that takes place the poverty-stricken will be replaced by the leisure-stricken."
To the sober mind, an economic imbalance of twenty hours of labor in a 168-hour week will present a problem appalling in its over-all implications. Specifically, it will be a new challenge to Seventh-day Adventists whose pattern of labor rests in the Sabbath commandment of six days of productive activity followed by a day of rest.
The problem is objectified by some recent public questionnaires showing that people are not prepared for so much leisure. One survey of Texas teenagers reported that they are unanimously and overwhelmingly bored with free time. A similar survey in New York City revealed that only 15 percent of those who responded acknowledged making any satisfactory use of their leisure hours. Perhaps it is this creeping paralysis of idleness that sparked the episode in Sweden a few weeks ago when sixty youth swept down on a town and held it in a two-day siege of terror that scared the citizens out of their wits. People were bumped off sidewalks and beaten up if they protested. Women were insulted and their dresses stripped from them in the streets. Is too much leisure a part of our delinquency problem?
A statement from inspiration seems to support that conclusion: "Idleness is the greatest curse that can fall upon man; for vice and crime follow in its train. It enfeebles the mind, perverts the understanding, and debases the soul."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 156.
With pressure for more free time coming from labor, one California aircraft factory innovated a four-day week with a three-day weekend. Within two short months the workers voted to go back to the five-day regime. The long weekend increased family squabbles and made the workers restless and dissatisfied. The women in the home said the men were in the way, and fretted at their inability to get things done around the house.
Perhaps the truth is that we are not by nature constituted to use intelligently more leisure time than that set by God in His injunction, "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God."
Indeed, this whole matter of possible longer weekends points up the grave consideration of what it will do to our own sense of the sacredness of the Sabbath day. Will it not tend to secularize the day, so that the physical rest it provides will be no different from that of Friday or Sunday? Already, with a 67-hour weekend break for many of our believers, there is a growing tendency to lump the leisure hours into one and make it available for a weekend safari, with only a token recognition of the Sabbath hours by attendance at church nearest the brief vacation rendezvous. The admonition of James on two-facedness comes to mind, "My brethren, these things ought not so to be" (chapter 3:10).
Fear of shorter working hours than those which now exist has many thinking laborers worried. One man on a 36-hour work week said, "Idleness leaves you thinking up things you shouldn't do." His comment is a modern version of that line from Isaac Watts, "For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Let us confront ourselves with the questions, "Am I keeping God's balance in labor and rest? Are my leisure hours creative, or are they consumed in a vapid idleness?"
True Christian leisure must be an active, not a passive regime. Jesus recognized the need of occasional retreat from His exhausting labors. To the disciples He said, "Come ye yourselves apart . . . and rest a while," but it is unthinkable that they spent their time in dawdling idleness. Undoubtedly, those hours of leisure were some of the most precious the disciples spent with the Master. For some of the finest opportunity for meditation and reflection comes in our hours of relaxation. How often in a waking hour of the night, heaven seems nearer as we contemplate the love of God and the meaning of life! That is creative leisure in a spiritual sense.
Sabbath rest does not mean idleness or mere inactivity. It is the busiest day of the week for our pastors and many a church worker. But if employed aright, the hours are pure creative joy, zestful and refreshing in their inspiration—a time to think God's thoughts after Him and like Christ go about "doing good." One wonders sometimes just where the accent in one's thinking is when he loves to sing, "O there'll be joy when the work is done." There'll be rewards then, to be sure, but there is promise of joy here as we labor in the vineyard. Are we finding it?
Energy begets energy. Inspiration is a byproduct of effort. It seldom comes by waiting for it. The prospect of leisure time therefore should impel us to plan for its utility in self-improvement or in some special service in our sphere of influence. To look upon it as an opportunity for lazy retirement and self-indulgence betrays the ideal Christ has set for His followers.
Our greatest triumphs are in the area of the unenforceable—those things no one can compel us to do, but which we choose as a high privilege. So many scriptures come to mind as a concluding thought to these sketchy observations on the dangers and privileges of leisure time, but a text from the Old Testament and one from the New seem to afford thought-provoking warnings: "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that trayelleth, and thy want as an armed man" (Prov. 6:10, 11). "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead," "redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:14, 16). Perhaps we have a commission here to set before the world the meaning and duty of diligence.