I’m finally feeling inspired and coherent enough to put it into words something that’s been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about cynicism and the dark role it often plays in my life.
“Cynicism: An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.”
I struggle with my cynical attitude. Maybe part of it goes with the kind of personality I have.
This world and the people in it give us plenty of reasons to be jaded. People cheat, lie and manipulate to get what they want.
Isn’t it different in the church? Well, sometimes it is. But “church people” can be some of the most legalistic and petty you’ll ever meet.
I’m also deeply grieved by the gullibility among “religious” people—some will believe any idiot who holds a Bible and stands in behind a microphone (or in front of a camera).
There’s more: I’m reminded of a sermon I heard once from James Robinson. Someone told him he was fortunate to be in ministry, where people won’t stab you in the back. His response was something like this:
“The difference in ministry is people will stab you in the back and say God told them to do it.”
I could go on, but I think you get my point.
Is there hope for someone like me? Thank God, the answer is “yes.”
Let’s look at the book of Hebrews. Chapter 11 is a “hall of fame” of sorts, listing those who have glorified God through great acts of faith. Chapter 12 opens with these words:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith . . .
This passage has a couple of very important truths for a recovering cynic:
First and foremost, I have to stay focused on Jesus, not people. He is the Initiator and Perfector of my faith. I’ll never be disappointed when I look to Him. Disappointment comes when I put too much of my focus on someone else. People will let you down—Jesus won’t.
But there’s another important truth here: God has given us plenty of worthy examples to follow. Hebrews 11 specifically refers to “heroes” of the Bible, and these are certainly helpful. But most of us have encountered genuine, loving, living examples of the Christian life here and now. Be thankful for them, and always keep them in mind.
Another book has helped me: Paul Coughlin’s Unleashing Courageous Faith: The Hidden Power of a Man’s Soul. He writes about cynicism and its effect on the human psyche:
“Cynicism protects us from having our hopes destroyed by not allowing us to have thumos-producing hope in the first place.”*
Coughlin’s basic argument is this: cynicism can be a form of cowardice. We use it insulate ourselves from any possible disappointment and excuse ourselves from attempting great things.
No man wants to be a coward. But I have to agree with Coughlin’s argument here, and I must say it challenged me to the core.
You may argue that some amount of cynicism is healthy or necessary. I think I would agree with you there—I’m not arguing we go through life with blind naivety about the way things really are. Even Jesus, upon seeing the masses, “would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” (John 2:24).
But God has called me to be a man on a mission. That requires me to believe there’s a higher purpose in everything (and I do, by the way). At times it requires me to trust people (which I also do, though trust has to earned).
I can’t be a visionary, leader, or warrior while being a cynic—such roles just won’t peacefully coexist.
God’s grace is sufficient, even for a recovering cynic like me.
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