Boring Ourselves Back to Life


In 2003 and 2006 Carl Trueman published a pair of editorials that are worth reading (annually). Here are the especially pertinent excerpts.

Carl Trueman, “Editorial: Boring Ourselves to Life,” Themelios, 28.3 (2003), 3–4.

Why do we pay sports stars, actors, and the various airheads that populate the airwaves more than we pay our political leaders? We do this because they help to take our minds off the deeper, more demanding truths of life, particularly the one great and ultimately unavoidable truth: death. It is not just the entertainment industry that does that: the huge amount of money expended on the health industry in general and the cosmetic surgery industry in particular also point us towards the basic drive in society to avoid this one at all costs. As Pascal himself says, ‘It is easier to put up with death without thinking about it, than with the idea of death when there is no danger of it.’ . . .

This is where boredom is so important. Stripped of diversions and distractions, individuals have no choice but to reflect upon themselves, the reality of their lives and their future deaths. Human culture has proved adept over the centuries at avoiding the claims of Christ and the truths of human existence revealed in him. The modern bureaucratic state, the instability and insecurity of the work environment, the entertainment industry and the consumer society in which our modern Western affluence allows us to indulge all play their part in keeping us from reflecting upon reality as revealed to us by God.

Let us take time to be bored, to strip away from ourselves the screens we have created to hide the real truths of life and death from our eyes. Let us spend less time trying to appropriate culture for Christianity and more time deconstructing culture in the light of Christ’s claims on us and the world around us. Only then will we truly grasp the urgency of the human predicament. Oh and by the way, if it snows again, don’t rent a video; read a copy of Pascal’s Pensées.

Carl Trueman, “Editorial: The Eloquence of Silence,” Themelios 32.1 (2006), 1–2:

One of the distinguishing marks of God as he reveals himself in Scripture is that he is a God who speaks. He is a God who is not silent. This contrast with silence is fascinating; and, in a world which is full of all manner of ‘noise’ — cultural, social, commercial — reflection on silence, and the significance this has for the God who is not silent, can be most productive. Indeed, one could argue that silence is, in its own way, one of the most enlightening things about the world in which we live and about who we are within that world, both positively and negatively.

I have reflected before in an editorial on the contribution of the Christian philosopher, Blaise Pascal, to the development of Christian cultural criticism. I have looked at how, with his ethical understanding of the human thought and his categories of distraction and diversion, he probed the ways in which cultural pursuits, from entertainment to education to bureaucracy, could be used to avoid facing the moral realities of human sin and mortality, and the inevitable judgement that follows.

It would seem to me that one of the challenges that Pascal lays before us is that of silence: if cultural ‘noise’ is generated to allow us to forget or to avoid the reality of our human condition, then surely silence is useful as one context in which that condition can, indeed must, be faced. The measure of a man or woman, one might say, is the ability to sit alone and be silent in a room for an hour, contemplating nothing but their own mortality in the light of eternity.

Think about it. Think about the lengths we go to in order to exclude silence from our lives: from iPods as we travel to and from work, to the background hum of the television, stereo or radio as we go about our daily lives at home. Noise is everywhere. Much of it is unnecessary and a matter of our personal choice. We live in a world where silence is rare, and, if we are honest, is deliberately excluded even from those obvious contexts we have in which we might indulge in it. Yet silence is golden, for in silence human beings must face the starling reality of who they are.

The Laughing Theologian

truemanCarl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, 2015), 198–199:

In general terms, of course, Protestant theologians have not been renowned for their wit, and Protestant theology has not been distinguished by its laughter. Yet Luther laughed all the time, whether poking fun at himself, at Katie, at his colleagues, or indeed at his countless and ever increasing number of enemies. Humor was a large part of what helped to make him so human and accessible. And in a world where everyone always seems to be “hurt” by something someone has said or offended by this or that, Luther’s robust mockery of pretension and pomposity is a remarkable theological contribution in and of itself.

Humor, of course, has numerous functions. It is in part a survival mechanism. Mocking danger and laughing in the face of tragedy are proven ways of coping with hard and difficult situations. Undoubtedly, this played a significant role in Luther’s own penchant for poking fun. Yet I think there is probably a theological reason for Luther’s laughter too.

Humor often plays on the absurd, and Luther knew that this fallen world was not as it was designed to be and was thus absurd and futile in a most significant and powerful way. Thus, he knew that life is tragic. It is full of sound and fury. It is marked by pain and frustration. The strength of youth must eventually fade into the weakness of old age and finally end in the grave. We believe ourselves to be special, to be transcendent, to be unique and irreplaceable.

And yet the one great lesson that everyone must ultimately learn in life is that they are none of these things, however much we want them to be true and however much we do things to trick ourselves into believing our own propaganda. We are fallen, finite, and mortal. We are not God. And because God is and has acted, because in incarnation, Word, and sacrament he has revealed and given himself and has thus pointed to the true meaning of life, our own pretensions to greatness are shown to be nothing but the perilous grandstanding of the absurdly pompous and the pompously absurd.