I don’t know about you but for me, no amount of classroom teaching can convey what an actual experience of the topic can do. As I consider the topic of the Sabbath, specifically of keeping the Sabbath, my mind goes back to my own experience of many years in the nursing profession. I know that working as a health care professional on the Sabbath is one of those “hot potato” topics in Adventism, but here goes!
I was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist shortly after graduating from nursing school and working on the Sabbath quickly became an issue for me. I was working in critical care in a Catholic hospital and for some time justified my choice to work on the Sabbath, citing Jesus’ example of caring for the sick. But something just wasn’t “sitting right”. Eventually I began to study the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy on the topic, and I’d like to share with you what I found!
The purpose of the Sabbath, and how to keep it is clearly seen in Isaiah 58:13. This passage, along with Exodus 20:8-11, Numbers 15:32-36, and Nehemiah 13:15-21, was my springboard for study. Next I went to the Spirit of Prophecy to look for instances where Sr. White counseled those “compelled” to care for the sick on the Sabbath. My findings were really surprising. I first discovered what “kind” of nurses and physicians Seventh-day Adventists were called to be, and what “our” health care facilities were intended by God to be. Boy was than an eye-opener, and though not my topic for now, bears much consideration.
I found in Medical Ministry 216 that: “It may be necessary to devote even the hours of the holy Sabbath to the relief of suffering humanity. But the fee for such labor should be put into the treasury of the Lord, to be used for the worthy poor, who need medical skill but cannot afford to pay for it.” Well and good, for even Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and the sick don’t stop being sick just because it is the Sabbath!
In Counsels on Health 422, I found that: “Those who, from whatever cause, are oblige to work on the Sabbath, are always in peril; they feel the loss, and from doing works of necessity they fall into the habit of doing things on the Sabbath that are not necessary. The sense of its sacredness is lost, and the holy commandment is of no effect. A special effort should be made to bring about a reform in regard to Sabbath observance. The workers in the sanitarium do not always do for themselves what is their privilege and duty…” So, there is a danger to those who work on the Sabbath of losing the sense of its sacredness.
I encourage all to read 7 Testimonies 103-9 on this topic. Here Sister White warns that working on the Sabbath in our sanitariums is liable to bring about “A spirit of irreverence and carelessness in the observance of the Sabbath”, and that “The nature of his (the physician’s) duties naturally leads him to feel justified in doing on the Sabbath many things that he should refrain from doing.” and that “unnecessary work, such as ordinary treatments and operations that can be postponed, should be deferred...” and that we should, “Let the patients understand that physicians and helpers should have one day for rest. Let them understand that the workers fear God and desire to keep holy the day that He has set apart for His followers to observe as a sign between Him and them….In keeping the Sabbath, which God declares shall be kept holy, they give the sign of their order, showing plainly that they are on the Lord’s side.” She goes on to state that, “we are to stand as a distinct and peculiar people, free from all worldly policy, unembarrassed by confederating with those who have not wisdom to discern God’s claims so plainly set forth in His law…. our medical institutions are established as Seventh-day Adventist institutions to represent the various features of gospel medical missionary work and thus to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. We are to show that we are seeking to work in harmony with heaven.”
As I reflected on these and other statements I studied, the following were and are my conclusions:
1) If Sister White had such strong cautions regarding working on the Sabbath for those working in OUR sanitariums, where the Sabbath is understood, what of those who have no regard for it?
2) Please tell me which hospital will permit an employee to practice laying aside “unnecessary work” and “ordinary treatments and operations”?
3) We are to be Gospel Medical Missionaries whose focus is “to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.” We know that the Sabbath will be a major issue in the closing events of this earth. Can we afford to lessen the sense of it’s obligation?
4) What is the undergirding purpose of nurses and physicians working in worldly hospitals? And can one truly be a Gospel Medical Missionary in the popular health-care system?
After I realized the importance of the Sabbath and kindly spoke to my supervisors regarding my convictions, I never once, in my many years of subsequent practice, had to work on the Sabbath. I changed jobs many times, and repeatedly God opened some amazing doors for me!! The Lord has since completely brought me out of that system of health care to practice His way (Counsels on Health 323), where I can both honor the Sabbath and follow His example in caring for the sick using His principles.
Every act of healing that Jesus did exalted the Sabbath and was a fulfillment of His mission. And as a Seventh-day Adventist, I too, must be about my Father’s business!