A Theology of Boredom

The prophet Elijah was fleeing for his life from a vicious queen Jezebel (who I always imagine to resemble Cruella Deville) after he righteously owned some prophets of the false god Baal in 1 Kings 18.  Scared for his life, he is ready to throw in the towel.  But God has something to teach him first.  So he takes Elijah to a cave and sits him down.  “I’m going to show myself to you, Elijah.”

The story is well known.  First there is a violent wind, but God is not in the wind.  Then there’s an earthquake, but he’s not in that either.  Suddenly, there is a mighty fire, but God is nowhere to be found.  Finally there is a whisper…there it is.  God is in the whisper.  Elijah pulls his cloak over his face and carefully steps to the mouth of the cave to meet with this God who is about to put his finger directly on his fears, hurts, and insecurities.

We live with constant noise.  Not just noise of the aural type.  I’m talking about constant stimulation in the background of our lives.  When you ride in an elevator or are on hold with your credit card company, you’ll probably be accompanied by the smooth sounds of Chuck Mangione’s flugelhorn.  It is there to distract us from what we’re actually doing, which is nothing.  Doing nothing is to be avoided at all costs.  And we’ve gotten quite good at it.

I was watching a medical drama recently where a patient had to be drugged to within an inch of unconsciousness.  They had him on a constant IV of some medicine which continually crept into his bloodstream, keeping him just below the threshold of any real pain.  Though something was terribly wrong, he didn’t have to feel it as long as the drugs were flowing.

I realized recently that I’ve connected whatever part of my brain that registers boredom to an IV.  As longs as the drugs stay on a constant drip, my brain won’t register said boredom.  Those drugs are my social and digital media outlets.

Today the average internet surfer spends less than one minute per page.  Researchers say that our attention spans are significantly shorter now than they’ve ever been, due largely to television, the internet, and the like.  This means that if God is still whispering, we won’t hear him because we’ll get bored halfway through the mighty wind.  We’ll change the channel before we even make it to the mouth of the cave.

For a reason that I don’t really understand, yet I really appreciate, God goes about his business in pretty much the opposite way I do: slowly.  He doesn’t appear to be in a hurry.  I remember a Steve Deneff sermon I heard once where he essentially said that the degree to which I hurry is the degree to which I am most unlike God.  God does not seem to pander to our neurotic sensory desires.  If we’re going to hear God speak it seems that we’ll have to learn to sit down in our caves and not come out even when we hear the wind, earthquakes, and fires going on outside our door.  To sit still is torture.  To be silent is to starve ourselves of the attention we crave.  To be bored is to check ourselves into a rehab center and stay strapped to a bed while our body goes through a screaming withdrawal.

But when we make it through the night and the dawn breaks, we’ll awaken with a new sense of wonder.  We’ll step to the mouth of our caves with our faces covered as we experience for perhaps the first time the gentle voice of our Creator.  In the silence, we’ll exclaim with Jacob, “Surely the Lord was here and I did not know it!”

Because he has been.  We’ve just been drugged the whole time.  So it’s time to remove our IV lines and wake up to the gloriousness of silence.  It might just turn out to be anything but boring.

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