What You Really Want Is Distraction

What You Really Want Is Distraction

A thought for my skeptical friends:

Based on my experience I’d have to guess what you want more than anything else in life is to be distracted.

Not in the sense that you want someone or something to take your eye off the ball regarding your priorities as, say, a father or mother, or to alleviate some supposed boredom you feel on the job. More than likely you’re very passionate about both.

What I’m referring to is that sense of resignation which grips you when you stare off into the distance while driving, or that brief flash of apprehension that wakes you suddenly.

More than likely you’ve become pretty good at not thinking about it, pushing it away and keeping it at arms length.

When I was in your shoes I actually thought what I was experiencing at those moments was depression. Little did I know that melancholy was only a symptom of something much deeper.

Why we prefer the hunt

Back in the 1700’s there was a quirky, French mathematician named Blaise Pascal, who used to grab little pieces of paper to jot down his thoughts as they came to him. He’d stuff them in his coat and leave them all over his house. Over the years he collected hundreds of these random scribblings, which were later collected, typeset, bound in book form, and published under the title Pensees, which is French for “thoughts.”

My favorite musing from that collection is what Pascal wrote regarding our need for distraction,

“The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

That is why gaming and feminine society, war and high office are so popular. It is not that they really bring happiness, nor that anyone imagines that true bliss comes from possessing the money to be won at gaming or the hare that is hunted: no one would take it as a gift. What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, not the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us.

That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.

That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible. That, in fact, is the main joy of being a king, because people are continually trying to divert him and procure him every kind of pleasure. A king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to divert him and stop him thinking about himself, because, king though he is, he becomes unhappy as soon as he thinks about himself.”  – Blaise Pascal, Pensees (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 38.

Why distraction?

From what are you trying to distract yourself?

Boredom? Meaninglessness? What Kierkegaard calls, “The sickness unto death?”

In a scene from the hit Netflix series, House of Cards, the main character Frank Underwood is talking with his love interest Zoe Barnes when she questions him about why he needs sex so much. He didn’t seem to enjoy it. She certainly didn’t. So what was the appeal? His response was telling,

A great man once said, “Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.”

Likewise, is it possible that some of the things you do in life are simply attempts to keep yourself busy? Could you at least entertain the thought that maybe everything about your life is about diversion, except diversion?

What drove my need for distraction went by many names, but for the sake of brevity let’s call it despair.

I tell people that you can hide from anything except despair. It’s the one thing that finds you wherever you go.

The remedy

I have often thought that people who try to provide intellectually satisfying answers to people who aren’t Christians engage in a fool’s game.

Not that apologetics don’t have their place; it’s just that Christians who engage in such a task usually provide answers to questions people like you aren’t asking.

I’ve often thought a better approach would be, when approaching, say, someone as skeptical as you, to be like Androcles in Aesop’s Fable, who happened one day upon a lion in pain. As he came near, the Lion put out his paw, swollen and bleeding, and Androcles found a huge thorn had pierced it. He pulled out the thorn, bound up the paw of the Lion, and the two became friends.

To be perfectly honest, we’re no match for the ferocity of your questions and the roar of your complaints. They are too overpowering.

But we Christians do know what it’s like to live with an ache for which there is no earthly balm.

We can say from experience that no matter how many long hours we worked, how much TV we watched, how much golf we played, how much we drank, or how much we traveled, we couldn’t divert our gaze long enough from what truly ailed us.

The good news is there is a cure. We found it.

The bad news is the cure is sometimes more painful than the disease.

Your thoughts?


Sign up HERE to get my articles delivered straight to your inbox.

Back to blog