Last night, our youngest child stumbled into our bedroom. He couldn’t sleep. Despite a bedroom encircled with Christmas lights to keep the midnight wraiths away, he’d had nightmares again. So, he slid between my wife and I and promptly feel asleep.
As I lay there, no longer sleeping myself, it occurred to me that the new Star Wars movie is entitled The Force Awakens. In other words, the Force had somehow fallen asleep. It wasn’t available, because it had gone dormant. It had subsided into stories, because it had gone into hibernation. Having yawned and hung it up for a few years, the Force needed to wake up.
This reminds me of the hilarious biblical scene where Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal.
In 1 King’s 18, Elijah challenges the 450 Baal prophets to a prayer competition. Whoever can get their god to burn up a sacrifice without human help wins. So, the Baal prophets go first. From morning till noon, they beg and plead and dance. But nothing happens.
At noon Elijah began to make fun of them. “Pray louder!” he said. “If Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or traveling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!” (1 Kings 18:27).
So, the prophets of Baal pray louder and cut themselves with swords, pumping up the spectacle in order to wake up their dozing deity. But nothing happens. Baal isn’t just sleeping, he’s a nothing god.
But when Elijah takes his turn, God’s action is swift and unmistakable. He’s not only fully real and fully capable, but fully awake.
It doesn’t always feel that way though, does it? Sometimes, it feels like our Lord is unconscious, down for the count, sawing logs.
We aren’t alone in feeling this way. Several psalmists express their frustration with our seemingly sleeping God.
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. (Psalm 44:23)
Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice. (Psalm 7:6)
Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord. (Psalm 35:23)
But God does not sleep. He is diligently watching over his people while we we are awake and while we are asleep.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:3-4)
In Psalm 121, we see the words “watching” and “keeping” describe God’s relationship with us. His unsleeping eyes see everything in our lives and his unresting hand keeps us secure. Day and night, we are kept.
I love Psalm 3, where the psalmist finds himself in the tenuous position of being surrounded on every side by enemies but is so assured in God’s love and protection that he is confident to lay down and sleep. Knowing that God doesn’t sleep enables him to sleep.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side. (Psalm 3:5-6)
Similarly, Psalm 4 is a declaration of trust in God. I can sleep because I am in God’s hands.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)
In a biblical imagination, our need for sleep is sign of our human inadequacy. We don’t have what it takes to secure our lives if we have to lay there, prone and helpless for hours each day. At the same time, it is a sign of God’s adequacy. He doesn’t sleep and is therefore up to the task of secure our insecure lives.
Thinking that we can be our own security, controlling our own lives is arrogant and foolish. It also causes us to miss out on God’s love for us.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2)
Even though he doesn’t need rest himself, after six days of speaking creation into being, God rests on the seventh day. Why? It’s not a necessary rest for him. It’s an invitational rest for our sake.
God rests so we will rest.
All of creation is moving toward a Great Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9-10), where all that causes unrest will be dealt with — war, strife, sickness, death, pain (Revelation 21:4). There will be no anxiety. All will be healthy and whole. Where we are divided and broken apart, we will experience put-togetheredness.
Until then, God does not rest in his work of repairing and reconciling the world he loves. Those tensions we experience in the world may seem to point to God having fallen asleep on the job, but the opposite is true. Those are the very things he is awake and working on.
The Force may need to be awakened, but our God doesn’t.