A big theme which underlines the book of Hebrews that our religion obscures or prevents us from truly experiencing or even perceiving is Divine Union or what rge author calls ”rest.” It’s the irony of the century. The system which promises to bring people to God or Heaven may, in some cases, leave people more lost and disconnected than had no religion existed. Of course, if we happen to be over-identified with our tribe, team or religious practice, then this statement is highly offensive, confusing and creates animosity almost instantaneously within us.
Our religions and/or systems of belief have also prevented us from really understanding the book of Hebrews. How many of us have pastors or bible teachers who have creatively woven the American evangelical narrative into this book without ever thinking twice about how it could not have possibly been the author’s intent? As a result, contemporary Christianity, rather than being the first “spiritual but not religious” faith which it was originally, has established itself up as yet another alternative religion from which the book of Hebrews is trying to extract us.
For example, Hebrews 3:11 (cited from Psalm 95) speaks to God swearing in his wrath that the Hebrew people will not enter his rest because of their rebellion or disobedience. The author of Hebrews quotes or alludes to this phrase “enter my rest” another five times in chapter 4. This phrase is balanced in chapters 3 and 4 with another vital part of the original Psalm, “today if you hear is voice, do not harden your heart.” Evangelicalism has turned this into it’s pitch for conversion, when the message of Hebrews clearly seems to be inviting us into a deeper experience with our Maker, not a new team jersey.
So what does all this mean? Can we get beyond the carrot and stick binary which stunts our progress?
I could spend a week on the nuances in the Greek here, but there is no reason to wind it that tight. Like the original audience, all we need to do is see through our religion, not abandon it, and raise our consciousness to the Thing beyond the thing.
The author started by helping us to “pay attention” and to not “disregard” or skim over the depth emerging from our lives. This “waking up” to inner reality is exploded in chapters 3 and 4 as the author takes the Hebrew audience through key aspects of their faith, namely their founder, Moses, and their decades lost in the wilderness. The point of this rationale is to transform their history into a new metaphor for living now. It was to free them going back over and over to the historical and begin experiencing the narrative “today” within a new framework. He isn’t trying to get them out of their Judaism by conversion so much as to make their Judaism fully alive by completion.
The term “katápausis” means REST. This is not taking a nap, going to sleep, or referring to rest as physical restoration so much as it means to “cease from work,” “to stay one’s hand at labor,” or to “stop trying,” it is essentially to “sabbath.” This is proven when the author references the creation story in 4:5. Evangelicalism has turned this into it’s version of a future Heaven, and has reverse engineered the message toward conversion to the Christian religion under threat of God’s wrath. The clear thrust of the author is not a religious transaction, but inner transformation which leads us into divine union. Another way of putting this is freedom from the curse where we are each consigned us to the “sweat of our brow.”
I cannot emphasize enough just how “internal” the author reveals this divine union to be. The Hebrew religion is external with a big temple, sacrifices, and huge corporate displays. But the effect of the Christ within the heart of humanity moves all this “temple activity” to the interiority of our thinking and contemplation. Here are a few examples:
Proséxo– Be alert, pay attention, consider carefully (2:1), Pararréo-Drift away, lose consciousness of belief (2:1), Kardia- Inner self, mind, thinking (3:8, 10, 12, 15, 4:7), Sklerúvo– Cause to be stubborn, inner hardness, obstinate (3:8, 13), Hapistia– unbelief, forsaking, forgetting, willful (3:12), hapáte– deception, misleading, confusion, erroneous view (3:13), psuxe– soul, inner life, true person (4:12), pneûma-spirit, breath, wind, inner being, soul (4:12)….just to name a few
Rest then is an inside job. Rest is divine union. Rest is reconnection with Maker or Sabbath. Rest is hitting the pause button to regain our center of being. Rest for the Hebrew people was to have their own land, to live in safety, to cease from the labor of a nomadic life. The rest offered in the book of Hebrews is the gift of alignment with our Maker within our soul, our inner self, it is to find ones true self transparently grounded in God. To “rest” is to cease from the labor of our pseudonym, pretense, and the false self.
Rest is to push pause on a life lived falsely. Rest is a return to authenticity.
This is precisely why some people have no rest. They simply cannot find their way out of their pseudonym. Every aspect of their life is one facade after another which requires the never ceasing labor of propping up, defending, protecting, and obscuring. We get there because our inner self, our kardia (heart and mind) has become stubborn, hardened, and we disobey or miss completely the inner voice. We have rejected the voice of truth and liberation so long, that we fail to hear it and become completely trapped inside our own false thinking and fake ID. This is to die in the wilderness. Rejecting the truth is rejecting God. Ignoring the truth which emerges within our thinking will incur the “non-rest” or “anger” of a false existence and imprison us on a chain gang of servitude to falsehood.
There is one more important word to consider…”TODAY.”
“…again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (4:7)
The word sémeron– is simply translated “always.” It’s the timeless “NOW” similar to Tollé’s book “The Power of Now.” The present (presence) or now is the only place God can exist, within the eternal present moment. This is the only place being can take place. It is now, it is always, it is the present, the Presence, and in this moment, if you hear the voice, what the author calls the eúaggelion or Good News (4:6) which he points out that the Hebrew people heard but disobeyed. Delaying obedience is disobedience. It is to miss “right now.” Also the fact that the “gospel” was given to the Hebrew people in the wilderness should force us to recognize that the term, although highjacked by, is not limited to evangelical Christianity.
Meister Eckhart, the contemplative mystic, says: “For God to be he must give “being” away, and for man to be, he/she must receive being.” Rest is an ontological gift. Rest, true inner peace, true divine union, can only be experienced as a grace when we surrender all ego, pretense, and outcome. It is at the same time the easiest and the hardest thing to do. That is why rest eludes us. The religious mind which doubles down on his or her efforts of performing, or who engages in some spiritual practice whereby they think their spiritual self will become great has only puffed up the religious false self and expanded the chasm which separates themselves from true rest.
If you want real rest, we must stop trying, we must be in the presence, and be here now. We must rest from pretense, get real, and begin to live from this place of divine union, not live in hope of one day going there. Rest isn’t something that we are going to do for ourself, or something for which we think wil make us better. Finding rest means our “self” we know most about, our pseudonym, isn’t even there. That is why the Hebrew people failed to enter, they sought “one day” rest “future” rest, and failed to find the rest available in God from within the desert of their life.
It’s the same reason we cannot rest today. Our pseudonym will have no peace because it doesn’t ultimately exist.