“I’m bored,” is what parents often hear from their children—usually about three days after summer vacation begins. Of course, many of us today who are parents or grandparents probably never uttered such words and may have a difficult time relating to it. We don’t remember any time when we had actually entered into a state of ennui. “Didn’t you ever take long trips by car?” “Yes, and it afforded a great opportunity for reading such books as Ben-Hur, Jule’s Verne’s The Mysterious Island, and Never So Few, where the word formidable first made itself known to me.” Sometimes the book was so exciting a child might remain in the car to finish a chapter even after arriving at one’s destination!
Well, we must have been bored on some occasion, but if so, such moments did not last long because there was always something to do. Do we live in a more pas-sive society—one in which we expect to be entertained constantly? One in which there is always noise in the air (television, radio, or an ipod with some app)? If we find ourselves alone with our own thoughts, is that the moment we become bored? Hmm. How can boredom exist for Christians when there are Scriptures to memorize, the Bible to study, prayers that need to be offered, and good works to be done?
Believe it or not, a study was completed on the subject of boredom, which was reported in the Orlando Sentinel on November 24, 2013. The results of the study conducted in Germany were published in the journal Motivation and Emotion (A16).
For the experiment, 63 college students and 80 high school students were given PDA devices which beeped six times a day. At that time each subject was to “complete a questionnaire about what they were doing and how they felt about it.” The researchers were expecting to find four kinds of boredom, but they discovered five.
This one seems to be the mildest form of boredom, described as “relaxing and slightly positive.” It “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world.” No examples were provided of the various types of boredom, but this one sounds like a student in class who is daydreaming. He’s not altogether into Physics and has withdrawn from the external world to some degree—until the teacher notices and brings him back to earth by asking a question over the material just covered.
Okay, it sounds clever, but what does it mean? It refers to a “slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts” and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation.” Is this referring to the class clown who is about to shoot a rubber band at a fellow student or put a thumbtack on the teacher’s chair? If so, the situation should soon be changed.
Now we move into the realm of the uncomfortable. This kind of boredom makes one feel restless and “actively seeking out ways of minimizing feelings of boredom.” “If you’re bored and you know it, clap your hands….” In other words, a person is bored to tears but he is taking measures to repress those feelings. How does one do that? “It’s only fifteen minutes until lunch—if I can just hang on.”
With this scenario, the boredom has become so bad that a sufferer of it must leave the situation and “avoid those responsible” for it. “Mrs. Clark, can I go to the restroom? Please?”
This description sounds like a synonym of the first category, but it is not. It is the fifth type that was discovered in the research, and remarkably it accounted for 10% of all boredom for college students (36% for high school students). In it, students experienced “strong feelings of aversion.” It “shared some features with learned helplessness and depression.” Are the feelings so strong that the student says, “I’m not going to school today”? Would this be akin to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
What Is Boredom?
Okay, there has been some mild mockery here, but it is difficult to take such a study seriously. One objection to it might be that the students were not thinking about how bored they were until the study asked them; then they began to actually experience it—and to a greater degree than before. In other words, asking them to concentrate on their degree and type of boredom might actually have increased their levels.
Usually the dictionary is a safe place to go to find out information, but the definition for boredom is “the state of being bored,” and the origin of the word is unknown. Finally, under the 35th definition of bore (all right, it was really only the sixth, but 35th more accurately reflects the tediousness of the task), is found in Webster’s Second International Dictionary this definition: “to weary by tedious iteration or by dullness.”
Trying to find a Biblical definition will prove even more fruitless since the word boredom does not appear anywhere in the Bible; neither does the word boring. Interesting! With all the sins discussed in the Old and New Testaments, is it possible that nothing is said on this subject? If so, it appears under some other word or concept.
“Wait a minute,” someone might interject. “Wasn’t Eutychus bored with Paul’s sermon? He fell asleep during it.” Paul was not necessarily boring. Other conditions can lead to drowsiness, such as a full stomach, medications, lack of sleep, lighting (or a lack of it) or a touch of illness. Paul did preach until midnight on that occasion (Acts 20:7-11). Someone might respond by saying, “I think Paul must have been a dull speaker. If Eutychus had been listening to Brother Dynamo from the Ever-Expanding Megachurch, he would have remained awake and been on the edge of his seat.” When Brother Dynamo can speak for three or four hours and be exciting for the entire time, there might be a point. Anyway, Paul never claimed to be an outstanding orator; Apollos was the eloquent one.
Does the Bible refer to the concept of boredom? It very well may—and not in a flattering way. If the instances about to be suggested are appropriate, boredom is associated with sin.
Beds of Ivory
“Woe to you who are at ease in Zion…” (Amos 6:1). Wealthy people often become bored with life. They lie on beds of ivory and stretch out on their couches, feast, and give themselves over to entertainment (Amos 6:5-6). Why? They have all they need and have lost a sense of purpose. They also tend to forget God…. In the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan says on no particular afternoon to her husband and guests, “What are we going to do today? What are we going to do tomorrow? What are we going to do for the next thirty years?” Most of us cannot relate to being able to buy anything we want, go anywhere we want to go, or do anything we want to do. But if life consists only of such things, it could well be boring.
So often, the main goal that people have is to get by—to have a place to live and enough food to eat. When that primary goal is surpassed, many have nothing else to aim for. A prosperous Jerusalem got bored—and self-absorbed. Everything became about them (with God taking a back seat)—satisfying them—as though material things could ever accomplish something meaningful. Solomon discovered that searching for self-worth among the physical aspects of life was vanity. He found that wealth, entertainment—even work—was just like striving after the wind.
The world today has rejected God and attempted to find meaning in the things of this world. We seek the comforts that money can buy, entertainment, and foolishness. Many have a television, a radio, or something else running most of the time. Fewer people spend time reading than what once was the case. It seems that our senses must be constantly bombarded, leaving our time for thinking and meditating diminished.
The problem with material things is that they take the focus of attention off God to something of inferior value. One of the kinds of soil that Jesus described was that which allowed “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” to “choke the word,” thus becoming unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). Although we may delight in the fanciful baubles we possess, they cannot save us from our sins or give us an eternal inheritance. Eventually, they bore us, and we move on to the next distraction. What God condemned in Israel was the emphasis on such worthless things at the expense of their relationship with God.
They were ignoring the sad conditions of the world in which they lived. They spent their time enjoying themselves instead of mourning the sins in their society or thinking about the doom that would eventually befall them. Are Christians today mourning for the sins of our society, or have we given up trying to set things right? Our flirtation with materialism serves to ignore the important matters but may well leave us feeling bored. Only in Jesus can we recapture what is meaningful in life. As Solomon put it: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).
A Rooftop Experience
It may be that David’s sin with Bathsheba was due to boredom. It was the time of year when “kings go forth to battle” (2 Sam. 11:1, KJV), but David remained in Jerusalem. He had been fighting for several years and had acquired a great deal of territory for Israel. The kingdom had grown in all directions—even as far as the Euphrates River (2 Sam. 8:3). God had blessed David with great success. Had he grown tired of fighting year in and year out? Had his life become too dull and too predictable? On this particular year David remained behind.
But why is he outside in the evening walking on the palace roof? Could he not go to sleep? As king, he could have called for entertainment if he wanted company. He could have spent the evening with any one of a number of wives. He might have had a meeting with some advisors. Or he could have spent time in prayer, meditation, or even singing some psalms he had written. Was it boredom from the same old same old that brought him to the roof that night?
Satan had prepared a visual feast for him, and he allowed the devil, through this means, to get to him. If it was a new and interesting experience that David wanted to alleviate boredom, he certainly received it. Hereafter, he would be rebuked by Nathan the prophet for this sin and the attempted cover-up, which failed, prompting David to condemn to death a loyal, brave, and noble warrior. He lost the infant son that was conceived as a result of adultery.
When his oldest son forced himself upon a pure daughter, David was furious—but did nothing. Such a grievous sin had not been part of his daily routine before, but he was forced to endure it now. When Absalom killed Amnon out of vengeance, such was difficult to bear. After a reconciliation, Absalom tried to wrest the kingdom away from David. When he was fleeing Jerusalem and Shimei was hurling curses (not to mention rocks) at him, it may have occurred to David that some things are worse than boredom. He refused to let his men kill or prevent Shimei from assaulting him.
David could not even die in peace. Adonijah decided to declare himself king, and the prophet Nathan had Bathsheba ask David to reassert that Solomon was to succeed him. The new king was forced to put Adonijah to death for his efforts to try to gain the kingdom for himself. If there is one thing that David learned, it was that being in a rut is not always a bad thing.
Are we tempted to think we are missing something? That we have overlooked an experience that would revitalize our life? If so, we are looking at the wrong individual—Self. We ought rather to be devoted to God, Who can providentially supply what we actually need. We are encouraged to live for Him Who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). If we are serving God diligently, we are not missing anything that is good for us. David discovered this truth for all of us.
The Prodigal Son
Why did the prodigal son leave home where he had experienced safety and security? Did nothing change day after day? Did he know what he was going to do every day when he arose? Did he consider his existence humdrum? Why not do something exciting? What did the world have to offer? He found out by wasting his inheritance on riotous living. Had he spent all his wealth on wine, women, and song? The fortune that had been wasted was one that had been accumulated by hard work. God may have even blessed those boring days when physical labor was to be expended just as it had been the day before.
However, being penniless and without friends can get old in a hurry, also. Where were those who were his friends while he possessed money? Did not one of the women care for him when his cash flow ceased? Satan sells sin as an amazing adventure, which it may actually seem like at first. The price for excitement, however, is more than we can afford. When the prodigal son put himself above serving God, he realized he was bored and missing out on great adventures. Eventually, he came to himself and realized that having the right priorities (God and family) is not boring—but a blessing.
Did the children of Israel experience boredom by always serving Jehovah? Is that the reason they began to inquire about and then imitate the people of the land? They offered a new and fresh experience. Of course, they did not worship the true and living God; they were in error, and their practices were sinful—even to the point of offering their children as burnt sacrifices. Why did they not realize that boredom is largely a state of mind and that we must act rather than being acted upon? Serving God does accomplish everything important that needs to be done on this earth! Some died, and others were carried into captivity out of their land for their failure to be satisfied by the true and living God.
We have already seen the results of spiritual boredom are disastrous. They are not good for students, either. According to the afore-mentioned research:
Boredom isn’t just boring. It can be dangerous, either for the person who is bored or for the people around him. For instance, people who are bored are more likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. Kids who are bored are more likely to drop out of school and become juvenile delinquents. Studies have also linked boredom with stress and other health problems.
Christians should be enthusiastic about being servants of God. The opportunities we face now are always interesting; even more fascinating will be eternal life in the presence of One Who has demonstrated spectacular imagination. No one will be bored in heaven.