ENNUI: The Curse of God
Before warning about this particular curse of God, perhaps it needs to be settled in some people’s minds that God places curses at all. Scripture makes it clear that he does, including curses on people, places, and things.
Things: The first such curse recorded in Scripture is the familiar one he placed on the serpent for deceiving Adam and Eve:
“So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life'” (Gen. 3:14 NIV).
Places: He then placed a curse upon the ground:
“To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you'” (Gen. 3:17,18 NIV).
People: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse–the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known” (Dt. 11:26-28 NIV).
Many more such examples could be given. Scripture is quite clear that it is not at all uncommon for God to make use of a curse as an instrument of his punishment.
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Is. 45:7 NIV).
“‘And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me'” (Mal. 2:1,2 NIV).
But not all curses are of equal severity or kind; some bring immediate and severe punishment; others make themselves known over time in less distinct ways. When God warned Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he declared that the consequences of such eating would be immediate: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall die'” (Gen. 2:16,17 RSV). Adam and Eve did die (spiritually) the very day they ate the forbidden fruit.
Not all curses are so direct and immediate, however. One such more subtle and drawn-out curse is our focus here, the curse of ennui. This word is from the French (pronounced ahn-wee) and means a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest or boredom; a listlessness, tedium, lassitude, languor; a general dissatisfaction. Another way to describe this state of mind and heart is to call it “a leanness of soul”. This leanness of soul or ennui is our subject here, and Scripture has much to say about this ancient yet modern-day affliction of mankind.
Perhaps the clearest example of this curse of God being placed upon people is during the great Exodus from slavery in Egypt. God’s people were under extreme duress and affliction from their slave masters and cried out to God to deliver them. How happy and joyous they were when God answered their prayer and led them out of bondage in Egypt and promised them a new home in a promised land!
But there were conditions for this blessing from God. They were to have no other gods, as the Egyptians did, and they were to honor and obey the one true God who had so graciously set them free from slavery in Egypt. Then they would receive God’s blessing. But if they did not honor this covenant with God to be their God, he would send them a curse instead. At first, still experiencing the joy of being set free, the people were faithful to God. But soon the hardships of their wilderness journey towards the promised land took its toll:
“They soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test” (Ps. 106:7-14 NIV).
That test was to demand from Moses and God that they furnish them meat to eat instead of the heavenly manna that fell from the skies as their daily bread. The bread that God gave them was not enough; they craved meat. They wanted more, just as Adam and Eve wanted more than they had received from God, even though they lived in a garden of paradise. Just as Lucifer wanted more than he had, even though he lived in the glories of heaven. In each case, the more that they wanted was not in their best interests and God had wisely withheld it from them. It is a sign of his love for all whom he has created that he does not give us everything we want. He is wiser than we and it is wisdom to submit to his wisdom instead of insisting on our own. “Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have?” (Jer. 8:9 NIV).
Nevertheless, some people will not take no for an answer. The people in the wilderness complained bitterly about how Moses and God were treating them, and so, to teach them the folly of demanding their own way, God “gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15 WEB). Ennui.
They got what they wanted, meat. “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. . . . There they buried the people who had craved other food” (Num. 11:33,34 NIV).
Why did God do this? Why give the people what they wanted and then strike them down with a severe plague? There are at least two reasons. The first is that they had dishonored their God by looking with disdain upon the gift of food he had provided for them.
Jesus once gave a stern warning to those who similarly looked down upon something from God which they deemed as too small for their attention and thanks:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 18:10 RSV).
Whether it be children or little pieces of bread from heaven, when it comes from God it will bless those who thankfully receive it. But for those who do not, the blessing will turn into a curse. To despise the things of God is to despise the One who gives them to us.
The second reason for the curse is to serve as a warning to others. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11 NIV).
Whatever else the fulfillment of the ages means, it means Jesus, who is the bread come down from heaven. The children of those who had suffered the curse in the Exodus centuries ago once confronted Jesus and said to him:
“Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread.'”
“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. “(Jn. 6:31-36 NIV).
God became angry with the people in the desert wanderings not just because of their desire for something other than what he had given them in the manna from heaven, but because their rejection of this gift was a symbol of the coming rejection of their offspring hundreds of years later of his greatest gift of all, his Son Jesus Christ. All those who reject God’s Son as their Savior from slavery to sin must suffer the curse for doing so. It is to crave other food than the bread of life which God has provided.
“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life'” (Jn. 6:35 NIV).
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:26-31 NIV).
Dreadful indeed. The final and supreme instance of this is to reject Jesus as Savior and then to die in that rejection. That sends one to hell forever, for Jesus is the only way to escape this ultimate curse of being separated from God forever. But what is God to do if, despite all his warnings not to reject his great gift from heaven and the one way he has provided for a sinful people to escape hell, people continue to desire something other than what God has provided, to crave other food? There comes a time when God withdraws his offer of forgiveness because of persistent refusal of that offer, and he gives those who reject God and his gift exactly what they want, just as he did in the exodus: God “gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15 WEB). Ennui.
Ennui can be the last warning from God for people in this world who do not want God in their lives. God’s faithful people in this world try to establish good laws and government and families and schools and all the other things that are necessary in this life, but those opposed to God want none of this. They are like the rebellious people in the exodus, craving the good things of Egypt rather than the better things of God. There comes a point where God finally quits offering those better and best things and simply abandons such people to their own hearts’ desires.
“Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Rom. 1:28,29 NIV).
When this happens, all the good things they thought would bring them happiness only increase their sorrow in life. For to reject God is to reject him who makes the pleasurable things in life pleasurable. He is the one who puts the pleasure in pleasure. “For without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Eccl. 2:25 NIV).
Thus the things in life that should give pleasure no longer do so, because the source of that pleasure is no longer in them; they have become just things that exist, just like those who seek pleasure in them have become–just things that exist. There is no pleasure in life any more. Ennui.
The earlier quote of Psalm 106:15, in other translations, calls this severe plague “a wasting disease”. That is accurate as well, for the experience of it truly wastes one away; it eats at the soul until there is no life in that soul. There is more to life than just existence. Jesus said that he came to give life abundantly (Jn. 10:10). He also said that he is the Way, the Way (Jn. 14:6). Apart from him, there is no way to find real, lasting pleasure in anything in life, only the temporary pleasures of sin that do not last and never satisfy in the end.
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’– before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint. . . .’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless'” (Eccl. 12:1-4,8 NIV).
Though this passage from Ecclesiastes refers to the diminishment of pleasure in old age because of the weakening of the body and its senses, it just as well applies to the loss of pleasure from whatever source, including that stemming from seeking enjoyment anywhere but in the Lord. To find everything empty and meaningless and without the pleasure that used to be found in life is a fitting description of ennui, the emptiness in life that comes from seeking fulfillment and enjoyment in anything other than God.
There was an episode of a popular television program in which a godless, lawless man, a criminal and a murderer, was shot and killed and went to the after-life. There everything he wanted was provided for him; everything was provided for him that he had stolen and killed for in his earthly life. He had no cares. He also had no pleasure. Everything that had given him pleasure in his earthly life was his for the asking. Yet when he asked and received, nothing satisfied him. He became more and more discontent. He couldn’t understand why he could not find any enjoyment in all the things that used to give him pleasure.
Towards the end of the story, he found himself in a room with a pool table and he suddenly brightened. He loved to play pool. Maybe all he needed was a little diversion. The scene showed him eagerly grabbing a cue stick and heading towards the table with a beautiful woman on each side of him. He leaned over the table, aimed his cue stick, and broke the billiard balls with his shot . . . only to find that every single ball went into a pocket. The game was over with a single shot.
That was no fun. He pulled back from the table in anger and frustration. He was not allowed even this one simple pleasure here in this place–wherever it was. The beautiful women with him tried to woo him into their charms, but he was angry with them as well. They also no longer provided pleasure.
He angrily went over to the curator who had escorted him to wherever he wanted to go in this new place in which he had found himself after he had died and had given him whatever he wanted.
“I don’t like this place!” he shouted at him.
The curator responded, “But you have gotten anything you want. Everything you desire is provided for you here.”
“I know,” the man replied. “But it’s just no fun anymore. If this is heaven, I don’t like it. I want to go to the other place.”
The curator smiled a wicked smile and then said to the man, “But this is the other place!” –and then roared in laughter.
Now, I don’t believe this is an accurate picture of hell, but it does contain some truth in it in that apart from God–and hell is a place completely apart from God–there is no pleasure in anything. The same would apply for life on this earth, for without pleasure, life becomes something like hell. For as has been mentioned, there is no pleasure in anything in and of itself except what God has put there and which he has also given man the ability to derive pleasure from. A sunset is just a physical combination of light and bending of light that holds no beauty in and of itself except that God has created man with an eye to perceive and a mind and soul to see and appreciate beauty in what he sees. God has given this precious gift to all human beings, including those who completely disdain him as the giver of those gifts.
“He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45 RSV).
Yes, all in this world have the precious gift of the ability to find enjoyment in the many wonderful and beautiful things that God has created and put into this world for all of us to enjoy. But the farther from the Creator of those good things one goes, the farther from enjoyment of life one goes, for that enjoyment of life comes from him who is life, not from the things themselves. Therefore, it is possible that a person could continually get less and less enjoyment out of life the more that person separates himself or herself from God. Thus ennui becomes a warning from God for such a person to return to examine his or her life and to return to the source of that life and enjoyment of it.
“She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold–which they used for Baal” (Hos. 2:8 NIV).
“Behold, the Lord will lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. . . . The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.”
“There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished. . . . Terror, and the pit, and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth! . . . On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished.” (Is. 24:1, 5-9,11,17,21,22 RSV).
A WORD OF CAUTION:
Having gone through this detailed discourse on ennui, a word of caution is appropriate here. None of this is meant to imply that if you are depressed or bored or no longer finding pleasure in your life that you are under the curse of God. Nothing of the sort is intended here. As was mentioned, there can be a variety of causes for any of the symptoms of ennui and we all feel down or blue or depressed at times. What is focused on here is a life that continually finds no pleasure in being alive because it is being lived apart from God, who is the sole source of true enjoyment of life. Therefore this piece was written as a call to examine one’s life and to help explain why those apart from Christ constantly seek thrills and extreme adventures to make up for the joy found in God through his Son Jesus Christ.