“Your law is my delight.” (Ps. 119:77). Have you ever felt like this verse, or verses like it, mock you? I certainly have felt that way at times. When you read the Bible, do you find yourself yawning, allowing your mind to wander, or wishing that you could be anywhere doing anything besides reading the Bible? If the Bible is so important, what can be done about boredom with the Bible?
If you’re currently facing boredom with the Bible, it would initially seem that there are only two possible reasons for the problem at hand. Option 1: The Bible is the problem. Option 2: You are the problem. In other words, one possibility (at least as an initial consideration) is that the Bible is actually boring (option 1). The second option, at least as a surface consideration, is that the Bible isn’t boring; rather, the problem lies with you or me (option 2).
Alas, the problem is not quite so simple. It turns out that some Bible-boredom may lie with the Bible itself, some with our culturally-conditioned expectations for what generates interest, and some with ourselves. In certain cases, it may be a combination of all three — but not always. Let’s consider each possibility in turn.
Is the Bible itself boring? A book filled with villains and their victims, dark psalms of lament and exalted hymns of praise, adroit proverbs, spiritual guidance about sin and suffering, and apocalypses describing symbolic dragons might not on the surface strike one as boring. But if we are honest, there are probably some things in the Bible that are boring to many people in many cultures and time periods. Think of the food and purity laws in Leviticus. Think of the extensive oracles against the nations in Isaiah 13-23 and Ezekiel 25-32. Think of nine straight chapters of genealogies in 1 Chronicles.
But someone might push back, “These passages wouldn’t have been as boring to people living in the original cultural moment in which they were written.”
That’s correct, they would not have been quite as boring. For example, in a nation which cared deeply about ancestry, genealogies would have felt, if not ultra-engaging, at least important. As a practical matter, ancient persons also needed to know how to get ritually cleansed following defilement — which meant that the instructions for how to approach a priest would have seemed relevant if you had been living in Bible times. But that does not prove that everything in their original contexts would have been riveting to the Bible’s first readers. I am confident that some things found in the Bible still would have been snoozers — even originally. That’s partially because not everything that is important is interesting. (In our cultural context, the IRS tax code isn’t interesting. But no one will claim that it doesn’t impact our daily lives.)
One’s own cultural context also affects in general whether someone considers a piece of literature to be boring or interesting. People living in Southern California in the 21st century, for example, generally have entertainment expectations that other cultures haven’t always shared. But even people living within the same broad cultural context might consider certain genres more or less boring. For example, my wife gets easily bored with science fiction books, whereas I think science fiction is fantastic. (Did you get the pun?) However, my wife loves watching baking shows, whereas I think the way such shows are structured are pretty cookie-cutter (another pun…). (I’d probably like baking shows better if there were a way to taste the baked goods!) The point is not to assign blame or praise for being drawn to certain genres, and certainly not to fault anyone for the cultural settings in which he or she was raised, but to acknowledge that our reading expectations will impact, at least to some degree, what we deem interesting or boring.
Thus far in this post we have granted that some of our boredom with the Bible might lie in the way certain parts of the Bible were written, and some of it might result from our culturally-conditioned assumptions about what is interesting. But we must also admit that some of our boredom with the Bible might be something for which we need to take personal responsibility. We sometimes find the Bible boring because, honestly, we have not trained ourselves to love God’s Word. In other words, many of us are responsible, at least partially, for the boredom we exhibit when we interact with the Bible.
Now, I know that claiming that some of our boredom is our personal responsibility may elicit frustration. Is it even possible to train our interests, our loves, our emotions?
Yes, at least to some degree, we certainly can … and must. Otherwise, we could never be expected to obey the command of Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Christians must have some control over their emotions — even if they don’t have full control — if they are genuinely going to share in the rejoicing of another, or empathetically grieve with a heartbroken friend.
So, if you are bored with the Bible, here are seven suggestions that might help you deal with the aspects of boredom with the Bible that are your responsibility.
Call out to God in prayer before you read his Word, and fervently ask him to help you as you read. Don’t passively open your Bible. Train yourself to open your Bible after having first earnestly called out to God to help you.
Write about something you observe as you read the Bible. Anything! How one verse connects to another, how a verse helps you better understand the character of God, how one passage connects to another passage in the Bible, how you are convicted by something you read. If you expect to be engaged, you are more likely to be engaged. Writing down anything helps with engagement.
Make the radical decision that you will respond to what you read (yes, I’m writing about obedience) if a response is required. One of the reasons people are bored with the Bible is that they are adept at avoidance. You will be far more interested in reading if you radically commit to respond in whatever way a passage of Scripture calls you to respond.
Prioritize the place and the time and setting in which you read the Bible. Do you read best in the morning? Then read in the morning. Do you need to go out of the house (say, sitting in a chair on a back porch or in a park) to get quiet time? Then leave the house. Does it matter to you what your Bible looks and feels like? (Some people are really visual; others kinesthetic.) Then buy a nice Bible! And, by all means, turn off your phone and don’t allow that to distract you while you read.
Discuss what you read with someone after you have read it. This is something I regularly do with my wife. “Guess what I read this morning? It was really interesting…”. The more you talk about the Bible, the more it will interest you when you read it.
Become familiar with the contents of the Bible. If you know the most important characters, events, and themes in the Bible in your head — and generally know where the Bible is headed — it will become far more engaging. For more help on this, go to biblefluency.com.
Keep reminding yourself that you need to stay spiritually sensitive. People keep coming back to the Bible when they see growth in their lives as a result of reading the Bible.
Still, this doesn’t mean that reading the Bible will always engage you the way a good science fiction story will (or a baking show if you’re like my wife…), but you will see how God is spiritually growing you as you increase in the knowledge of his Word, and, consequently, you will increasingly come back for more.
The experience of reading the Bible is usually not like eating pizza and milkshakes (a Berding-family tradition from my childhood); sometimes it is more like eating bread or rice, fruits or vegetables. You cannot expect the Bible to always be ultra-interesting, though sometimes it will be, but you can be confident that God will nourish, strengthen, and mature you as you regularly feed on his Word. I am also confident that as you consistently read God’s Word, learn your way around it, and see the impact it has on your life, that you will find it more and more interesting, and even sometimes be able to genuinely declare: “Your law is my delight!”
Do you need help drawing out the spiritual issues underlying your disengagement with the Bible? Here is a book that I’m confident will help you.
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.