At times, I imagine most people deal with feelings of cynicism. I know I do.
If our ideals are deflated too many times, we can often bear feelings of disappointment, distrust and, in the worst case scenario, despair.
Our world is not perfect, fair or just. At any turn, we can be served hearty portions of dismay and disillusionment at what is going on around us.
Cynicism is defined as:
Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialismgoals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It’s an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism; a feeling of distrust or that something isn’t going to work out well.
Synonyms for cynicism include: skepticism, doubt, mistrust, suspicion, disbelief, pessimism, negativity, disenchantment, and my personal favorite, world-weariness.
The emotional fruit of cynicism is varied. The cynic can have feelings of sadness, anger, indignation, surprise, despondency and disgust. Sometimes all at the same time!
It’s been said that the root of cynicism is not that we care too little, but that we care a whole lot. Which is a good thing. Until it isn’t.
Because our cynicism can become like a consuming black hole.
Andrew Byers, in a CHRISTIANITY TODAY article called Is Christian Cynicism a Spiritual Sickness? wrote:
So many believers have now slid into those dark pits that cynicism is becoming vogue in many Christian circles as a self-identifying trademark of a new spirituality: edgy spirituality of the jaded. Since cynicism is emerging as a hip new way to be “spiritual,” religious disenchantment is often hailed as a spiritual virtue
But here’s the deal: ultimately, our emotional buoyancy is a choice. Meaning, cynicism doesn’t have to be our lot.
Yes, the world (and particularly the people who populate it) give us multiple reasons to feel cynical.
- People don’t live up to right standards.
- People are hypocritical.
- People let us down.
- People do terrible things
- People are downright hurtful.
It kills us when we see people walk in the way of Esau, who sold his precious birthright for a stupid bowl of stew.
It drives us nuts when we see people seem to act more like those who chose the golden calf over worshiping the one, true God.
But then we must remember: it is for these types of sinful attitudes and practices that Jesus died on a cross.
Cynicism sometimes tempts us to separate and differentiate ourselves from the people who demolish our ideals.
But we can’t separate ourselves FROM them because we ARE them.
As a former pastor of mine used to often remind his flock: “The ground around the cross is level.”
It’s sometimes good to remind ourselves that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”
I have to admit that sometimes hiding behind my cynicism are flecks of spiritual pride. I, sadly, have too much in common with the condescending Pharisee who prayed he wasn’t like the other sinners.
If there was ever a person who could have become incredibly wearied by the world, it was apostle Paul. As he went forth to share the Gospel, he encountered all sorts of harassment and persecution.
More than once he was beaten to a pulp. He was unfairly charged and imprisoned. He was even left for dead.
Who could blame Paul if he finally got so sick of people and their painful ways, that he lashed out. Or maybe checked out.
But instead Paul revealed great resiliency.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul used a phrase several times regarding how he and his ministry partners dealt with ministry difficulty and being letdown by people: “We do not lose heart.”
Why? How could a man so pressed down keep popping up like a cork on the ocean?
He explained it like this:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
What kept Paul going? The Gospel. The Gospel within him as well as the Gospel he proclaimed.
And because Paul knew people needed the Gospel, he didn’t let people’s sinfulness destroy Him.
I wonder if there were times when Paul was tempted to become cynical, but then thought back to his own life before he met Jesus. You know, the life where he persecuted and killed Christians.
Maybe an awareness of his own darkness made it a bit more difficult to get bent out of shape about the darkness in others.
I think the problem of cynicism is rooted in one major mistake: we have our eyes on people more than we have them on Jesus.
People will always disappoint us.
I know I will certainly let people down.
When I have feelings of cynicism, I am often taken back to a chorus from a song, See Through, performed by the band Audio Adrenaline:
Don’t you know that God loves you?
Don’t you know that I try too?
I’ve been known to miss my cue
Don’t look at me I’m see through
How’s that for reality? We are professional “cue-missers.”
We lack the substance for anyone to place too much trust in us.
No, there is only one place to bury our faith. And its not in human beings.
We’re see through. We’re sin stained. And until we make it to heaven, we’ll often miss the mark.
Peter walked on water once. But only because he fixed his gaze on the Savior.
Once he began to look around, he quickly became soaked.
Maybe there’s a principle in there for those of us feeling the tug of cynicism.
When we struggle with cynicism, perhaps we need only to check on which direction our eyes are pointed.