Boredom vs. Gospel Joy

[For the visual presentation, click here.]

College students will tell you that certain professors bore them out of their minds. Many professionals in the midst of their careers find themselves bored with being monotonously stuck in a position they’re unhappy with. Even those who are retired can find themselves bored without the busyness of their former careers. This overly common issue is worth considering from a Christian perspective in order to understand how we need to respond to boredom. First, let’s define boredom.

Definition of Boredom

Boredom is:

“feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.”

In other words, it is an admission of inadequacy and a need for greater satisfaction, a raging restlessness, and the idealization of something else as interesting and exciting at the expense of something we have in front of us.

C.S. Lewis once made the analogy of chasing worldly pleasure as that of a boy making mudpies in the slums and missing out on the value of a holiday at the beach. I would suggest that boredom is like building a sandcastle on the beach, all the while feeling like you’re making mudpies in the slums.

As we begin to consider Scripture in relation to this definition, let’s start by looking at the students’ favorite verse, Ecc. 12.12:

“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

  • “weariness of the flesh” is a very close parallel to boredom. Here the flesh is worn out not by physical labor but due to being overwhelmed and uninterested
  • Solomon states this simply and factually. It is something that just happens. Repetitive work that demands close attention often leads to boredom!
  • This passage highlights the curse on Adamic work (Ecc. 2.24-26). In verse 26, the sinner experiences “travail” in his gathering. His work is empty and vexes his spirit. Literally “a vapor and chasing after the wind.”

This is one of the few occasions where Scripture alludes to this challenge. Yet this issue seems to be an experience that many of us experience on a daily or weekly basis! Take a look at how this issue has overcome modern society…

This graph shows how boredom has overtaken modern society.

But you don’t have to just see it in books. Take a stretch on an airplane. On a recent trip to Brazil, I was amazed by all of the distractions that Americans used to make the flight less boring; however, the Brazilians were  content to sit contemplatively or in casual conversation throughout the flight.

Think of how, in a momentary flash of boredom, we’re quick to reach for our smartphone or the TV remote!

And all of this is where Christianity pushes up against one of the norms and values of our culture. Boredom is the result of a productivity-oriented society, which values a lack of waste and a high return on investment. This is why the high-pressure CEO who spends every waking moment on the run feels far more bored than someone seemingly less productive. When he’s taking a break between meetings, or on a vacation, he can’t really disconnect. He’s bored with time spent relaxing. This stands in stark contrast to people several hundred years ago who remained in the same vocation as their parents and didn’t experience as substantial opportunities to shape their futures. Yet they knew how to rejoice both in the monotony as well as in times of relaxation.

Kierkegaard: “boredom is the root of all evil”

The Bible and Boredom

So what does the Bible have to say about boredom?

Hebrews 5.11-14

  • The writer is using this plea as a “goad” towards activity. The assumption is that the readers want to move on…they want to be teachers. They want to be mature people. But they’re actually not progressing in that direction.
  • The readers are no longer listening because what the writer wants to teach them builds upon simple, well-versed beliefs that they’ve grown tired of hearing.
  • “when for the time” – seems to indicate that a long duration of time has elapsed. Their boredom has kept them from progressing on pace. Rather than continuing with the repetition and then progressing, they’ve become bored and tapped out.
  • “have need…again” – that which they’ve grown bored of will need to be repeated in order for them to be ready to handle what God has for them.
  • “first principles” – the ABC’s. Do you remember the boring and repetitive monotony of learning to write your ABC’s or beginning to write in cursive (I know, I’m probably dating myself here…)?
  • “word of righteousness” – This probably refers to the Scriptures. Joyful constancy in the Bible leads believers to skillful handling of the Word. Bored avoidance of the Bible leaves believers unready to discern the teachings of Scripture.
  • “by reason of use” – continual practice. Think of playing scales on the piano.
  • “exercised” – This comes from the Greek word gymnazo. Do you think that the Olympic gymnasts are performing those floor routines for the first time when they step out on the Olympic stage?

Hebrews 12.1-3

  • “run with patience” – The Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. It isn’t won by beating others, but by making it to the end.
  • “set before us” – the finish line has been assigned to us by the master of ceremonies. We don’t set the duration, but we’re called to stick with the race despite the hardness or terrain, injury, or weariness we experience. My brother who was preparing to join the Marines would run for hours at a time. I asked him how he did it. He told me that many times he just puts one foot in front of the other and looks ahead for a goal to reach. This leads us to the next point from the text:
  • “looking unto Jesus” – The Gospel frees us from the monotony, repetition, and weariness of our race.
  • “author and finisher” – He laid out the track and he’s already run it.
  • “joy…endured” – Jesus patiently put one foot in front of the other, carrying out the monotonous  journey with “joy”!
  • “be wearied…faint in your minds” – boredom with pursuing the spiritual journey ahead of us results in a lack of nerve and paralysis in our spiritual lives. Boredom tells us that there’s no point in forging ahead. The Gospel tells us that there’s purpose in monotony, and we see that purpose fulfilled in the victory of the Son of God!

Danger Zones of Boredom

Like cholesterol, not all boredom is bad for the Christian. But there are several danger zones that we would do well to be aware of. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Theological Boredom

  • Do the great truths of the Christian faith seem insignificant to me?
  • Has reading the Bible become a chore rather than a delight?
  • Is the challenge of receiving doctrinal truth off my radar?

Spiritual Boredom

  • Have the ups and downs of my spiritual journey become monotonous?
  • Am I longing for the “victorious Christian life” of other saints?
  • Do prayer, church, service, and fellowship seem less exciting than sports, entertainment, and vacation?

Vocational Boredom

  • Am I unable to focus and complete tasks?
  • Do I keep daydreaming about greener grass elsewhere?
  • Have I made the assumption that the work I do is beneath me or meaningless?
  • Do I consistently experience Monday dread?
  • Am I struggling to be thankful for my employment?

Conclusion: Gospel Joy

Zephaniah 3:17 portrays God’s ecstatic pleasure over his saved people on a daily basis. This verse uses multiple words for joy. Some of these imply clapping one’s hands and others imply dancing. It ends with God singing songs over his saved ones. Now you and I don’t often see that much to get excited about when we see other Christians. But apparently God does. And he never stops his eternal joyous dance over the ones whom he has redeemed.

This makes me think of my little daughter. When I get excited or sad, most people will never know. But we she gets upset or happy, everyone knows! She continually slaps the ground or claps her hands on her legs just to let us all know how thrilled she is. And in the Gospel, this sort of unrestrained mirth shows up in the character of God. There is no cure for boredom like looking at the joy of God in the Gospel. G.K. Chesterton writes:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Have you ever thought that our eternity will be spent over and over again in vocation, experiencing doctrine, and in spiritual duty? Do you exult in the monotony that is your future or do you despise it?

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