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On being boring

From the Sola Panel:

According to a computer analysis, one particular Sunday in the 1950s (the 11 April 1954, to be exact) was the most boring day in the twentieth century. The most interesting things that happened on that day were a Belgian election (yawn) and the birth of a Turkish physicist specializing in atomic microscopes and computer chips. Apart from that, nothing much else happened.

Being boring seems to be a particularly heinous crime nowadays, even amongst Christians. Of course, this isn’t true at all times and in all places. It’s hard to think of the Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake in the mid-1500s, or Christians today in Pakistan being sentenced to death for blasphemy, being especially worried about the prospect of boredom. On the other hand, if you’re reading this, you probably belong to that portion of humanity with quite a lot of time on our hands. Time to read blogs, for example. Or play sport. Or to like things on Facebook. And since you probably spend quite a bit of time reading, playing and liking, you probably care a lot more about the ‘interest factor’ in your entertainment, your sport and your friends than, for instance, the average Protestant martyr.

So is there actually anything wrong with being boring? Is boredom just a 21st century Western problem that we all just need to ‘get over’?

On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that being boring can have terrible consequences. Thoughtful Christian parents know this all too well: there is great danger in boring your kids out of Christianity. If, for example, you teach your kids by your words and your actions that the gospel is a simple formula for a ticket to heaven (especially if your version of ‘heaven’ sounds suspiciously like an endless succession of 11 April 1954s), that the Bible is a book of morality tales to make us nice, and that the world is a nasty place that should be avoided wherever possible; if your kids perceive that you are going through the religious motions of church and sermons Sunday after Sunday, year after year, without it affecting your life, destroying your pretensions or humbling you before God—this is, indeed, perilously boring, for them and for you. And of course, this isn’t just a problem for parents and their rebellious yet perceptive teenagers, is it?

On the other hand, the desire to avoid being boring can be just as perilous. If we care too much about the problem of being boring, we can look for dangerous shortcuts to being interesting. This is a real problem for Christian teachers. Having spent a bit of time in the world of biblical scholarship, I can testify that a deep anxiety to avoid being boring fuels much of the scholarly endeavour. Biblical scholars are noticed, given praise, published and given jobs when they say new, novel and controversial things about their area of specialty (commentary readers, take note!). When biblical scholars just show how this or that part of the Bible fits into the whole counsel of God as preached down through the centuries, nobody is particularly interested. But this is a temptation for anyone involved in Bible teaching. Think of the pastors who feel the very real desire to monitor the latest trends; what people are liking, listening to, watching, clicking, reading, talking about … The temptation is to focus so much on being interesting that we discard anything that is perceived to be boring, to replace the Bible with entertainment or personalities, to replace what is true with what is liked. But let’s not just point the finger at the professional Bible teachers themselves. How often do we all talk about our teachers as if the most important thing that matters about what they have to say is how interesting it is: interesting = good, boring = bad? If the interesting/boring spectrum is the main thing you care about when you comment about your own Bible teachers (in private, in public, online), then you need to repent, because you are contributing to a culture which feeds the production of heresy, which leads people away from Christ.

Really, there is a far better way forward: a way which, in the end, is truly interesting. But to begin with, a lot of it looks quite boring, especially to people who are used to a quick-fix solution to their boredom. It means retelling the “old, old story” again and again, holding fast to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”, passing on the tradition as we find it in the Scriptures. How boring does that sound! But only on the surface. Just like the sullen teenager who declares his or her parents to be boring, even though they may well have wonderful, interesting and satisfying lives through their deep relationships, their loving family, the joys and heartache of seeing their children grow; so too, to declare this activity as ‘boring’ is to miss what it’s really all about.

Because like any real and deep relationship, an ongoing commitment to the day-to-day drudgeries of our spiritual lives creates something that in the end is truly, profoundly, satisfyingly fascinating in our own relationship with God. Hours in reading and talking about the Bible together; being fascinated with the acts of God in history, in his people and in our lives; discovering and reliving and rediscovering the intricacies and the wonder of God himself as the triune creator and judge and redeemer who lives and acts and loves (the Trinity is so incredibly interesting it can never be boring!); exploring together how all these different stories and realities that we find in the Bible, which can seem so strange, do actually fit together and make sense; being astounded by the way in which God’s Spirit through his word moves us out of blandness, to apparent paradox, then beyond what we naïvely thought was paradox to a deeper understanding of who God is and how he works and what he has done for his own glory and for us in his Son Jesus Christ; seeing our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters and those in the world around us pierced to the heart, rescued from wrath, turned upside-down, transformed, and resurrected. It would be a heinous crime to think that this was boring, wouldn’t it?

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