We are now in our tenth week of sheltering at home in North Carolina, and I have learned to stop asking people that I’m interacting with regularly on Zoom “So what did you do yesterday?” Life has been shrunk to a much more narrow footprint than we are used to, and one of the regular complaints I hear is of something called “boredom.” People are weary of doing the same things day after day, and they long for normalcy, some of which involves the variety of a wide range of experiences which makes life so rich for us all. When we do the same things over and over, feeling of mental staleness comes over us and the walls can start to close in.
There is a well-known existential question which is used to make us challenge our perception of reality: “Does a fish know it’s wet?” We can be so used to certain aspects of our conception of the world that we are unable to get outside ourselves and see it from a different perspective. We just take for granted that “That’s just the way it is.” So, as a Christian, I have been made increasingly aware of certain words and concepts and mental states that it seems most 21st century people take for granted, but that I don’t find anywhere in the Bible.
Being a lover of church history has helped me do this somewhat. Reading the writings of great people who lived in past centuries is like opening a time capsule and catching a strong aroma I’ve never smelled before. Their presuppositions, their perspectives, the issues that challenged them, their language and attitudes. In some cases, I find they struggle with exactly the same things I do. In other cases, I feel that if I were to articulate what I’m feeling, they would look at me blankly and probably rebuke me sharply. Perhaps in still other cases, they might be intrigued and want to know more. For example, I get this a lot when I read the 17th century Puritans. Their daily lifestyle, work ethic, approach to evangelism, zeal for strict holiness, ability to listen to long dense and detailed sermons, their willingness to suffer persecution for their beliefs… all of these give me a strong aroma that transports me up out of myself and causes me to challenge my worldview.
The Word "Boredom"
So, I have run through this grid certain words that we take for granted in 21st century life. I want to zero in on the word “boredom,” because it is a big issue during this COVID-19 pandemic with its stay-at-home orders. And as I am writing a book on heaven, boredom soon comes up as a theme in some people’s dread of eternity. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ than when we’ve first begun!” Forever sitting on a cloud in a white robe, strumming a harp and singing that same song for literally the trillionth time!
As people think about eternity, some begin to realize that there is nothing they do on earth that they would want to do forever and ever and ever and ever. The COVID-19 sheltering has reinforced this. Unlike other disasters (like an earthquake or a hurricane), our homes and archived entertainments and food supplies and electricity have not been threatened. Because life has gotten much simpler, people find themselves with many more hours to fill. Since electronic entertainment and isolationism has severed a lot of the ties many people have to their neighbors, we are left as in a submarine with endless electronically streamed experiences. And we’re running out of interest.
"More significantly, can you imagine Jesus Christ ever being 'bored?'"
I remember when I was a student at M.I.T., throughout the spring of my Senior year, I was going through the job placement process. I saw one job advertised that paid double the annual salary of any that I had yet heard of. It was a two-year commitment manning a weather station in Greenland. They offered a huge supply of videos (VHS back then), limitless food, and paid counseling when the stint was over! Obviously, I chose to go a different direction, and have never regretted it! But I can picture some person sitting in that station, flipping switches, turning knobs, taking measurements, and watching a movie for the eighth time… slowly going crazy as the winter daylight lasted only three hours. Swimming in boredom.
Newness of "Boredom"
But can I locate “boredom” in the scriptures? How would I define it? I have a reprint of the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary, which really is like a time capsule on the American language. When I looked up the definition of the word group around “bore” or “boring,” every single one had to do with making a hole in something. There was not a single indication of the way we use the word “bore” most frequently. The word “boredom” did not exist. However, the online Merriam-Webster definition of “boredom” was “causing weariness and restlessness through lack of interest; tiresome; such as ‘a boring lecture.’” Boredom seems to be a recent invention.
Did the settlers on the frontier in Kentucky in 1750 get bored at night? Or did they eat the same meals day after day after clearing out their land by axe and muscle power, and fall gratefully into bed ninety minutes after sunset, glad for their freedom? Did the Apostle Paul get bored during his long stints in prison? In Acts 24:27, it says that the Roman governor Felix had left Paul in prison for two years! Interestingly, that was the same length of time that Joseph was left in prison after being forgotten by the cupbearer whose dream he had interpreted (Gen. 41:1). Two years is a long time to be in a cell. Did Paul get “bored”? Did Joseph?
More significantly, can you imagine Jesus Christ ever being “bored?” He said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Can you picture Jesus sitting and gazing at a wildflower he has just plucked, staring at the intricate details of its complexities? I can! Conversely, can you imagine Jesus listening to an old person talk for a long time about his past life and at some point losing interest, his mind wandering, until he finally interrupts the old person from what we might unlovingly call his “ramblings” and move on to something more interesting? I can’t!
I remember hearing that New England pastors used to have pastoral prayers from the pulpit on Sundays that lasted over an hour. Then the sermon would start! I have read a sermon by Jonathan Edwards out loud to my daughter, timing the application section itself at over 45 minutes. The whole sermon took ninety to read. And it was dense and carefully reasoned. I wonder if something has happened to our modern minds that makes us very selfish and easily distracted.
"I believe boredom is a form of mental, emotional weakness."
We are used to the tangy powder on the surface of the Dorito chip, but when it resolves to the more bland corn base underneath, we are ready to eat another chip as soon as we can. We are addicted to the flash and thrill and all sensory inputs pushed to their limit, unaware of the law of diminishing returns that cause us to have to seek ever more extreme experiences to get the same thrill. A few years ago, I saw a Mountain Dew commercial in which a group of four or so young men were drinking that beverage, when suddenly the moon exploded behind them in the sky! They all looked at that spectacle without the slightest change of expression. Then one of them said in a flat voice… “Cool.” That sums up the way our culture has pushed all senses to the limit constantly, making us extremely ready to be bored at the drop of a hat.
I believe the reason Jesus could stare at a wildflower for an hour is he realized how much of his Father’s craftsmanship went into it, and how worthy of calm contemplation it really is. But he also recognized scope and proportion. He used the wildflower in a “how much more” argument proving that we who are worth more than many sparrows, who are the adopted children of Almighty God, will “much more” be clothed by the providence of God (Mt. 6:28-30). So, if a wildflower is worth studying, how much more is a human being—his mindset, his activities, his purposes, his effect on history, etc. To Jesus, nothing is boring, because God the Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer is intensely interested in all that exists.
Boredom and Heaven
So, in heaven we will be cured—completely—of all boredom. I believe boredom is a form of mental, emotional weakness. When it has to do with other people, it is intensely selfish. When it has to do with wildflowers, it shows ignorance of the complexities of life. It is fed by the scattering effect our technologies have on our mental powers, our ability to focus and concentrate. Napoleon once said, “Genius is the ability to focus all the attention for a long time on a single thing.”
I believe our resurrection bodies will be tireless, filled with limitless energy. The corruptible body is sown in weakness; it will be raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43). Our resurrection bodies will soar on wings as eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint (Isa. 40:31). So it will be also with our minds. We will listen for hours to the stories and testimonies of other saints in heaven, brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will be enthralled at what they have to say. We will not have selfishly wandering minds, wanting to break away and do something titillating to the senses. No! We will want to soak in all the glory of God in everything he ever made or did… especially in his redeemed people. And there will not be a single moment of boredom, even when “we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun.”