Tag Archives: theology

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?

On Beards: Remix

Awhile back I complained about my beard deficiency and my resulting theological conundrum. But I’m a firm believer that when God takes one thing away from you, he loves to give you something better. So I’ve found my beardless blessing: the greatest shave known to man.

Although the current fad is to see the shaved face as somewhat emasculated, I’ve discovered that the gentleman’s shave is one of the most awesome experiences ever. So I’m sharing my process here.

Step 1: Heat

You can do this with a hot shower or using a super hot washcloth. Getting your face hot opens the pores and eliminates much of the pain of shaving.

Step 2: Pre-shave

Rubbing a little oil against the grain keeps the hair upright and makes the shave smoother. I’m not talking WD-40 here…I use The Art of Shaving’s pre-shave oil. This only takes a second.

Step 3: Lather

You can use the old soap and mug thing, but I use The Art of Shaving’s cream. It lathers up fast on your face, saving all the mess. If you end up using this particular brand, you should note that it only takes a tiny amount (maybe half the size of an M&M) to get an epic lather.

Don’t forget a good brush.  I prefer a good badger hair brush. It will make the lather nice and thick. This one is pretty popular. With the brush, you’ll need a stand to let it drip and air-dry.

This step made a huge difference for me. Getting rid of the nasty stuff that comes in the can helped my razor burn drop to nearly nil.

Step 4: Shave

I’m rocking the Merkur Long-Handled Safety Razor with the Merkur blades. And check it out, you can pick up 100 blades for the cost of something like 8 of the cartridges for your quadruple-blade-vibrating-aloe-caked-mostly-plastic doohickey.  I’ll admit that it was scary for the first couple times, but after that you’ll feel like John Wayne as you heat up your razor and make a clean shave.

Remember: shave *with* the grain and take time to make several passes. In the end, you’ll end up with a *very* close shave. Some guys can do an against the grain shave, but start it on a trial basis and see how it works for you. If you’re using the safety razor, let the weight of the tool do the work and take your time.

Getting rid of the old Gillette with the aloe pads that fill up with crud keeps my pores clean and keeps the razor burn at a minimum. It’s well worth the extra few seconds it takes with the single blade. A single blade also makes those precision cuts for beards or sideburns a cinch.

If you’re rushing and nick yourself, don’t fear. A little styptic pencil will congeal the blood and get you going in no time.

Step 5: Wrapping up

Rinse your face in clean cold water. This will cleanse and close the pores, keeping your face fresh and healthy. Then a good aftershave will help keep your skin in great condition.

Hope this helps you guys. Go man-up and enjoy a clean shave! It’ll change your life (maybe).

Shout out to my wife, Laurel, for the razor and shaving kit. You’re awesome!

Easter: Invitation to Something Greater than this Life!

When I think about what the resurrection means to me, I guess there’s a lot that comes to mind.  There’s the historical aspect of the resurrection which marked out Jesus to be the Son of God and ignited the Christian faith around two-thousand years ago.  Without the historical fact of the resurrection, every deed of charity or sacrifice or martyrdom is worthless.  This resurrection event was no claim that was added to the doctrine of the Church some centuries after Jesus died (giving them time to fabricate a myth about him).  No, this was a central claim that was made from the earliest claims of Jesus’ followers and was able to be verified by those who lived contemporaneously with Jesus of Nazareth (see 1 Corinthians 15).

But the resurrection is so much more than just a historical fact.  The resurrection is God’s declaration that He has won.  It is something of an invitation too.  Easter is the audacious claim that God not only defeated sin and death and Satan, but that He invites us to win with Him too!  We are offered the chance to identify with Jesus in His resurrection and victory.  Maybe there is something in this suggestion that gives me hope of something greater and better.  Everything I see around me passes from life to death with no hope of change for the better.  But in the resurrection I see death rise into life and hope suddenly restored again.  It is a hope that I’m not resigned to staying the way I am because I was “born this way,” but that I might be re-born and re-made.  It is hope that the death-cycle is broken.  It is hope that something greater than my greatest imaginings is in store.

A Prayer After Meditating on the Resurrection in Colossians 3

Dear God,

You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans.  I look for my righteousness within myself.  I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor.  All this I have done, but I keep coming up short.  I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not.  Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me.  Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You!  Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him.  Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you.  Let Your life live in me.  Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!

On Beards

Sometimes it frustrates me that I cannot grow a decent beard.  I can get a little scruffy and aggravate my wife with my 48 hour shadow, but that’s about it.  Genetics have conspired against me so that I cannot fully achieve that primeval mark of manhood.  I suppose that this frustrating aspect of my physiology is not the worst defect, but I suppose it to be a defect nonetheless.  It seems unfortunate that I will never be able to experience the delight of finding yesterday’s food lodged somewhere around my chin or being able to look 10 years older.  All of these experiences and more will never be mine.  As I meditated on these thoughts, I realized that there was a larger and deeper issue in play.  This issue is beyond physiological, or experiential import.  This issue is a theological issue.

Yesterday I realized that I could never be a very good Calvinist.

Takeaways from Southeast Region ETS

I thought I’d share with my friends a little about what I learned while I was at my regional ETS meeting up in Wakeforest, NC this weekend.  I’ll first share observations specific to each meeting and then close with some general observations.

  • Devotional: Doctor Köstenberger opened the meeting with a devotional from 2 Peter 1:3-10.  He urged the group to pursue moral and academic excellence as God empowers us.
  • Parallel 1: I went to a paper reading by Paul Himes (SEBTS) who argued quite persuasively that the primary referent of  “strangers and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) was literal (i.e., that the people being addressed were literally strangers and sojourners).  I thought he made some solid points for this minority position on the text; however, I felt that he failed to take into account the intertextuality of the passage and how Peter uses the OT elsewhere.  I also felt that he did not adequately explain the surrounding context as well as I would have liked.  Overall, though, it was a solid paper.
  • Parallel 2: Stephen Stout (New Life TS) presented a great paper which analyzed the Pauline emphasis on the humanity of Christ.  It is often argued that Paul cared little for Christ’s humanity and focused solely on His divinity.  This argument was soundly trumped by this well-reasoned paper.
  • Parallel 3: Jeremy Kimble (SEBTS) did a spectacular presentation of a paper on the use of Deuteronomy in 1 Corinthians 5.  I’ve become more and more fascinated by intertextuality, so this naturally interested me.  I left with a deeper appreciation of the implications of the use of the OT in the NT, the difficulties of church discipline, and the importance of church discipline.  All-in-all, this was a wonderful paper with far-reaching implications.
  • Plenary 1: Doctor Paul House (Beeson) presented a lecture on biblical theology which provided an excellent introductory survey of the topic.  I appreciated his straightforward style and clarity.  He challenged the group to commit to doing biblical theology by looking for how the Scriptures cohere, and not whether they cohere.  Part of his presentation included a segment on Paul and Isaiah as biblical theologians.  Just as Isaiah used Moses and Paul used Isaiah to form their themes, so we must be committed to finding and using the themes of all the biblical writers as we study the Scriptures.  Ultimately, Dr. House challenged us to see the disciplines of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, and Biblical Theology as streams flowing into the Mississippi River.  All of these valuable exercises are necessary in order to achieve a proper understanding of Scripture.
  • Plenary 2: Doctor Hafemann (Aberdeen) attempted to pursue a new eschatological schema for doing biblical theology.  In this lecture, he decried the use of contrasts (law vs. grace, dispensational approaches, etc.) in favor of a more positive approach to the interconnected whole of Scripture.  In doing so, he appealed to, what seemed to me, stretched parallel structures in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.  Overall I thought the argument was quite weak and was one of the least interesting sessions.
  • Parallel 4: Ryan Martin (CBTS) presented a paper which attempted to parallel two opponents of Jonathan Edwards and current proponents of the NPP.  The paper was fascinating in that it brought out the fact that challenges in understanding justification have existed for centuries.  Orthodoxy has always confronted these challenges head-on.  I did think, however, the attempt to construct the parallels may have been slightly overdrawn.
  • Plenary 3: Doctor Köstenberger (SEBTS) brought the final plenary address.  This particular lecture was my favorite by far.  He pointed out the importance of Gabler’s call towards a biblical theology back in 1787.  In response he demonstrated trajectories of modern biblical theology.  He listed the following four:
    • The Classic approach of segmenting each writer or book and tracing particular doctrines through their works.
    • The Central Themes approach of allowing for various themes to be traced through Scripture.
    • The Single-Center approach of allowing for one theme (usually unhelpfully broad) to be traced through Scripture.
    • The Metanarrative approach of watching a particular story play out throughout Scripture.
  • Parallel 5: Doctor Maurice Robinson (SEBTS) presented a fascinating paper demonstrating the Byzantine priority in a textual variant in Acts 5:24.  He argued quite convincingly that only the majority reading could explain the rise of the other readings.  He succeeded in convincing even the most skeptical in the group.  I found my views more or less deepened by this interaction.
  • Parallel 6: Richard Winston (CBTS) presented a paper on the use of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5.  Once again, I found myself fascinated by the importance of intertextuality.  Even at the heart of a tough debate, the insights gained through the OT were critical.  I did think that he attempted to make the Qumran community speak too far into the interpretation of the text.

In general, here are some thoughts I had while riding several hours back home on Saturday:

  • Evangelical Christianity is far more conservative that I had been led to believe.  Not only was essentially everyone I talked with or heard (with only 1 small exception) staunchly conservative theologically, but they also were militantly opposed to doctrinal deviations.
  • God has gifted the Church with an impressive number of scholars who are devoted to an honest study of His Word and ministry to local churches.
  • I’m a nerd.
  • Presbyterians make me smile.
  • I can’t wait for next year.