If you’re not being swamped by a tsunami, beaten in a riot, or dying of starvation, you’re probably enjoying play-by-play news updates of these tragic events, and those updates change not only the way you see the world, but what you expect from it. You expect big-bang-type events in your life, and so you play first-person shooter games, you watch pornography, you plan the perfect party that consists of enough food, drink, laughter and diversions to power a small factory.
If this isn’t you, it’s you neighbor. And if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll see more of you in there than you care to admit. You expect a certain amount of psychological and physiological stimulus to make you happy, whether that manifests as food, sugar, exercise, money, power, status, or whatever. Left without your precious stimuli you’re either bored or running from boredom, trying to pretend what you’re doing to fill your boredom is worth your while and in some way meaningful.
And Christians are the worst. We come to church and almost expect to be bored by the sermon, the Biblical text, and the music–and the amazing thing is, only a select few see through the fabricated “programs” of religion and into the deep sense of boredom those programs and events are meant to cover up.
Indoctrinated, Generational Boredom
Oftentimes you’ll hear Christians talk about new converts in sort of awe-struck ways, as if their fresh boldness and passion were a magical potion all us seasoned Christians have become immune to. If only we could go back and revisit those early days with Jesus! This is dealt with in Jonathan Berger’s great book The Juvinalization of American Christianity. His basic point is this: the American church has degraded its mission to simply going to heaven when we die, and therefore its entire purpose for existing is to tally a higher number of conversion experiences than the next church. The result of this is the emaciation of the entire frame of religion.
The Church has one Biblically mandated goal, a goal that is meant to be the culmination of a lifetime of sanctification and fruitful labor. When you make the kick-off the point of the football game, you sort of lose the point of playing the game. You lose the glory, the sorrow, the drama, the excitement, and all you get in return is a bitter über-shallow nostalgia.
These “mature” adults sit in pews for decades without experiencing any more joy than that kick-off. They relive it, over and over. Each week they hear the same message from the pulpit, and once they finally get bored with the Gospel (or, what is more correctly just the inauguration of the Gospel), they either get jaded (if they are even that cognitively aware at that point) or just plain apathetically bored, lulled into a state of perpetual boredom by a looping kick-off which never seems to go anywhere.
All We Need is an Old-Fashioned Saw-Dust Camp-Meeting Revival
Those few who are self-aware and brave enough to own up to the fact that they are spiritually bored are looked down on as if their boredom was a result of spiritual blockages. Tina Smith was sleeping during church–I bet she doesn’t read her Bible everyday either, and I bet she enjoys going to them movies more than coming to church! You’ll even hear preachers say things like, If you would scream as loud for Jesus as you do at the football game, we’d be all right!
These people (and pastors) are reading the signs correctly. Their fellow church members are bored out of their God-loving minds. But they have no idea how to remedy that except to shout and rage, hoping their passion will be rewarded by divine favor, hoping, Maybe God will come down and do a work! But is our spiritual vitality, is our stimulation as emotional, psychologically intricate creatures really dependent upon a whimsical, random move of God? We don’t need more camp-meetings. We need things more concrete and mundane than that.
We Need to Accept Compatibilism
While it is true that God gives us renewed joy and vigor, it is also true that we must go get that joy and vigor. God is sovereign and yet He demands us to work. Repentance is a classic example of this tension, a tension which is known to theologians as compatibilism. God must grant us repentance, and yet we also must turn away from old patterns and break habits the old-fashioned way (read: through self-awareness and self-discipline). We must mortify the flesh in order to suppress its desires (Rom 8:13) so that new, fresh desires can be put in their pathetic place, and when we do, God has done it, from start to finish, in and through our wills, our emotions, and our work ethic.
We Need to Regain our Wonder
We need fresh eyes and ears to hear new things from God’s Word, and we need to carry that vision of Him into all of life. Does God give us this freshness? Absolutely. That isn’t the question–God gives us everything. The question is how does He do it? What is the means God has ordained for us to regain this freshness and wonder?
The way of greatest refreshment is in seeing the world, the same world you look at, from a different perspective. If necessity is the mother of invention then variety is the mother of newness. Meeting new people, and sympathetically listening to their story, imagining what it would be like to be them, helps awaken you from your stale self. But most people don’t meet very many new people, and if they do, they don’t get the chance to share stories. In our modern world, we are often more isolated and alone than when there were no telephones and trains and cars.
“The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.”
We Need to Read Real Books
The best way to hear these stories and let them shape us is by reading. We need to read to engage in the stories and perspectives of others, to shake us awake to realities which look dull and gray from our jaded vantage point but which shimmer like gold from theirs. However, not all writers are writers, even Christian writers. Most writers write schlock (a mildly-addictive Yiddish word for wretched). They put pen to paper and mark down a truly wretched perspective with genuinely wretched word-pictures, communicating a wretched message which leaves you feeling like you just wasted $9.99 and about 8 hours. But if you’re a good Christian you reserve judgment, knowing they have a good heart, and you walk away determined never to waste your time on another book ever again.
Listen, heart isn’t enough to help you break your jaded cynicism, your perfectionism, your self-worship, your idols, nor your mindless laziness shrouded in busy hands. You need to get serious with books. Demand enlightenment from them, or put them down. If you find yourself in front of a great work of literature, still bored to tears, you have a serious problem–and it should also explain why you think the Bible is boring too. Chances are, you lack some essential mental framework necessary to make meaning out of texts, a common problem for our screen-based culture.
What we really need is to read the work of writers–real writers. Very few published authors are writers and even fewer Christians read those few authors. That leaves a minute few humans as part of the New Humanity who have read the works of true writers, who have therefore had their souls refreshed and eyes opened to the beauty and wonder of the world around them, few who can then open the Good Book and get out of it more than a shallow, trivialized message that reeks of the cultural milieu in which the reader lives, the same milieu in which all his friends live, friends who have to listen to his opinions on the Good Book, opinions which sound just like their own and so they all get bored and depressed when they even discuss the Good Book, because all they’ve ever heard about it is synonymous with everything they’ve ever thought and so in order to get a respite of newness and excitement—wonder!—in life, they (the New Humanity) must turn to lesser goods to satisfy them, lesser goods given to them by that same screen-based culture addicted to news-streams, social media, and selfies.
But why? Because they didn’t improve their senses by the ordinary means of grace God has given in the wonder of writing, the miracle that words on a page can change the way you see the world. In their piety they throw all the blame for their spiritual apathy and lethargy on God, as if in the area of spirituality their free will’s hands are tied. And in their arrogance they have turned away from this endless source of refreshment, and in so doing have fallen so far from glory they aren’t even sure what the word glory means—that is if it isn’t an old, faded American flag.
Compatibilism states that the Sovereignty of God is absolute while the will of man is also free–unrestrained in its ability to make choices. The paradox of the hidden continuity between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty is truly a Deut 29:29 paradox, hidden from us because it finds its core tension in the character of God Himself. ↩
Often Christians ask questions like these, which are really bad questions if you keep asking them over and over. Imagine how many areas you ask whether or not God gave you that. The answer is always yes. Now, get on with asking better questions, otherwise you’ll let whatever wonder you have waste away through banal repetition. ↩
For an artistic, long-form look into this loneliness, see Olivia Laing’s original article on Aeon. (disclaimer: this is liberal, secular and errant, but I enjoyed the deep insight into our culture she gives.) ↩
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, pg. 99. ↩
Here again, spiritual lethargy and a lack of desire for God’s Word may be nothing more than a lack of the essential skill-set necessary to understand God in His Word, or to understand words at all. Identifying that problem and fixing it is your sanctified next-action step toward a greater spiritual fervor. ↩
As C. S. Lewis is famous for saying, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (Weight of Glory). See this great article by David Mathis covering this concept. ↩
The schlock of schlock as far as content goes. It’s been proven that our culture increasingly lacks the exact skill-set required for what a Christian sees as His “spiritual life”: reading, thinking, evaluating worldviews, and identifying subjective opinion and changing that opinion to be more in line with an objective Truth. ↩
I’ve emphasized reading here, but there are other disciplines and sub-disciplines as well. The art of reading is just the hub of most if not all of them. ↩