Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

We’ve talked a lot on the podcast about escaping a life of triviality, escaping this desire to be entertained to death. Twenty-five or so episodes in the archive now prove that this is a major theme on the podcast, Pastor John. I summarized those episodes in the APJ book on pages 291–307. But here’s a unique question on the topic with a little twist, and it comes to us from an anonymous young man. “Hello, Pastor John!” he writes. “With your emphasis on Christian Hedonism, my question is about how you think of boredom. I often find myself wondering what it is exactly, and why God created the world with boredom as a main feature of daily life — at least in this age, post-fall. I’m not talking about depression, but the general ennui in this life, common to all of us.

“We stay busy with work and family and hobbies not to feel it. But it’s always there. A moment of downtime and it finds us again. Such boredom in this world seems to lead to all sorts of behaviors that Christians deem sinful: drug use, overindulging in smartphones and social media and entertainment and gaming, illicit relationships and affairs, gossiping and idle conversation. It has always puzzled me that God, at least in terms of his sovereignty over fallen man’s daily experience, has us experience a seemingly constant desire to be entertained or to otherwise ‘escape’ from reality by going to concerts, movies, playing board games, etc. At root, what is boredom? What causes it? What does it signify? And do you think God has a purpose in it for his children?”

I really enjoyed thinking about this question, partly because I’ve never thought about it before. I’ve never considered how the word (or the experience of) boredom is handled in the Bible. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself that question until getting ready for this APJ. I had never done a word search on boredom in the Bible, so this was not boring to me, which tells us something right away about the meaning of boredom — namely, it has to do with monotony. It has to do with dull repetitions that have no interest for us. So, the reason thinking about boredom was not boring for me is because it was not monotonous or dull or repetitious. I’ve never done it before, and I wanted — and that’s a key word for non-boredom — to know what the Bible has to say.

And I’ll bet our listeners have already guessed what I found — namely, that word’s not in the Bible. Boredom is not. Boring and bored are not — except if you’re going to bore a hole through somebody’s ear. You can find the word boring, but it doesn’t have the meaning of this. So, it’s interesting to me that the Bible doesn’t have the word boring, and it doesn’t have the word interesting anywhere in it. It doesn’t have the word exciting. It doesn’t have the word fascinating anywhere in it. (I’m basing that, by the way, on the ESV. There may be some other English translations I’m not aware of that might have some of those words, but not the ESV.)

Book of Boredom

Even though the word boredom is not found in the Bible, there is in the Bible a whole book devoted to boredom. It’s called Ecclesiastes. Listen to this:

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. . . . A generation goes, and a generation comes. . . . The sun rises, and the sun goes down. . . . The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind. . . . All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; . . . there they flow again. All things are full of weariness. (Ecclesiastes 1:2–8)

Now, that’s probably the closest thing you get to the word boredom: All things are weariness. “The eye is not satisfied” — there’s another good definition, I think, of boredom — “with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be . . . and there is nothing new under the sun. . . . I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:8–9, 14). That’s a very powerful description of a life that has sought non-boredom and didn’t find it under the sun — that is, without God.

Ecclesiastes is a book of what life is like if God is not the bright sun in our sky and his word is not the charter of our lives. And I think it’s in the Bible because the man who sent us this question is right. The experience of boredom is universal — not that everybody experiences it all the time, but everybody has tasted it. And he’s right also that, by its very nature, nobody likes it. Boredom by its very nature is unsatisfying. If you’re satisfied, you’re not bored.

“God’s purpose for boredom in this fallen world is to point us to another one.”

And he’s also right that since nobody likes being bored, we all take steps — according to our personalities and our circumstances and beliefs — to get rid of it. If we’re super energetic, we might work ourselves out of boredom or play ourselves like crazy out of boredom to get rid of boredom. And if we’re more lethargic, then we may just sit on the couch, become a couch potato, turn the TV on, and try to get rid of our boredom with movie after movie, streaming after streaming.

Why Are We Bored?

So, he asks, “At root, what is boredom? What does it signify? Does God have a purpose in it for his children” — and I would add, for the world?

And my answer is that, at root, boredom is the relentless experience of not finding satisfaction in this world. Something starts out being exciting, satisfying, but soon we weary of it and we need something else. We take a vacation to the Alps, stand in awe for maybe two or three days, and before a week is over, the curtains are pulled and we’re sitting in front of the TV, trying to get the stimulus we’re not getting from the Alps anymore. Even great things can become boring for the fallen human heart.

What does it signify? What’s the meaning? What did God have in mind when he ordained the universal experience of boredom in a world of sin and rebellion against God? What’s his purpose for it? I’m going to give three answers: one from the Bible, one from C.S. Lewis, and one from the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert (my favorite, I think). And they’re all the same answer in different forms.

1. Eternity in Our Heart

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Now, I don’t know all that that verse means, but the least that it means, it seems to me, is that God plans for human beings to be frustrated with their experience in this world until they realize that they were made for God.

2. Made for Another World

Here’s the way C.S. Lewis says it: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (Mere Christianity, 136–37). Or to say it another way (paraphrasing Lewis), if we find that nothing in this world is a long-term solution to the problem of boredom, we were probably made for another world. Boredom points to God. That’s God’s purpose for boredom in this fallen world: to point us to another world — namely, to God and his infinitely interesting and infinitely satisfying person and work.

3. The Gift of Restlessness

Here’s the way one of the greatest English poets put it in a poem called “The Pulley.” And the reason it’s called “The Pulley” is because it attempts to describe in poetic form the way God pulls people to himself. And of course, the answer is that he pulls them through boredom. But he doesn’t use the word boredom; he uses the word restlessness. And he clearly thinks that God has made us restless or bored for a reason. So, here’s the poem, and I’ll close with this:

     When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which disperséd lie,
     Contract into a span.”

     So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
     Rest in the bottom lay.

     “For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me;
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
     So both should losers be.

     “Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
     May toss him to my breast.”

Or we might say, “If goodness lead us not, yet boredom may toss us to God’s breast.”

I think that is God’s design in this universal experience of boredom: to point us to the origin of everything interesting, to the world where no one will ever be bored again — God’s presence through Jesus Christ.