Cynicism is not missing from the Bible texts. For example, Job’s response to his buddy Zophar smacks of cynicism.
“You people really know everything, don’t you?
And when you die, wisdom will die with you! (NLT, Job 12)
Job throws down a “you people” to Zophar and his two compadres. I don’t think that Job really thought wisdom would die with the passing of his three friends. I would classify that as a cynical remark. What I struggle with is that cynicism is never listed (even in the apocryphal books) as a spiritual gift. My one chance to move to the head of the class! Denied.
Recently I spotted a T-Shirt that conveys a sad truth.
I’m not cynical. I’m just experienced.
I receive a pretty steady stream of correspondence from “experienced” Christians who are fighting cynicism. This recent email is typical.
I'm a cynic by nature. I recognize human failings (especially the stupidity in myself) and I am amazed by the concept of grace and mercy - the idea that the Almighty would humble Himself to reach out to faulty, fallen beings is an awesome one. However, I noticed that with each passing year, as I see more and more of those failings I am getting more hardened with each passing experience.
It was my prayer years ago that as even as I see the reality of what is around us, I will still do good anyway, still love people anyway, and still believe in them anyway. I'm still trying hard, but I find it hard to keep myself "tender". (please excuse the churchianty jargon. I have a rabid dislike for religious jargon in everyday communications, but it seemed appropriate for this occasion)
How do you keep yourself from becoming hardened or from being overwhelmed by cynicism?
(Name withheld to protect his cynical identity)
First of all, it is okay to use churchianity jargon with me. I am bilingual – I speak Christian as a second language. So I know that being “tender” means keeping your attitude toward others loving and kind even when they behave like the south end of a north bound horse. Writer P.J.O’Rourke once said that “"making fun of born-again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope." And it can be just as easy to get angry at Christians who don’t seem to have read any of the things that Jesus said (conveniently in red letters) in the Bible.
So how do I keep myself from becoming hardened? I tried a cynics support group (Motto: Like I need YOUR support). That didn’t work. The truth is I don’t always keep myself from becoming hardened to people who are acting like Bad Christians. That is an ongoing process and I suspect I will be busy working on this till Jesus returns.
Here are a few things that I have learned so far in my journey.
I am the wretch that the song is talking about. When I finally put aside my pride long enough to do some honest self-examination I realized how far I was missing the mark and how amazing His grace is to accept me in my “as-is” condition. Realization of your spiritual weakness is not weakness. In the mystic dichotomy of God’s grace and justice acknowledging the inability to do anything to win God’s favor is an act of incredible strength. I told a buddy this week that the day I finally admitted I was just an idiot saved by grace was the day I began to actually grow in Christ.
I need to focus on Jesus. I get my undergarments misaligned when somebody says or writes a negative thing about me. But I have learned (with varying degrees of success) to focus on Jesus. Imagine if you had poured every ounce of your strength for three years into a person. And then that friend, at the moment of truth, turns his back on you, denies that you are a friend, and runs away. Not one denial of your friendship. Three times. And that person you had given everything to cursed as he threw you under the bus. How would I respond to that kind of friend? It is possible I would need a seven second delay to edit my comments for family viewing. That is what Peter did to Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He forgave Peter and He restored him.
I don’t have any idea what other people are going through. There is a powerful song by the country group Sawyer Brown about how infrequently we stop to consider that other people might be enduring real trials. Here is a sample of the lyrics from the song “They Don’t Understand”.
Everybody's busy with their own situation
Everybody's lost in their own little world
Bottled up, hurried up trying to make a dream come true
They don't understand
Everybody's living like there ain't no tomorrow
Maybe we should stop and take a little time
'Cause you never really know what your neighbors going through
They don't understand
I remember driving away from one of Joni’s early doctor appointments after her breast cancer diagnosis. Joni was driving her car as I followed her. She was distracted (imagine that) and missed her turn. She drove forward to the next opportunity to turn left and double back. Because she temporarily blocked the left lane a guy laid on his horn and started gesturing. I remembering thinking that this guy was not a quality human being (rough translation). I wondered if it would make a difference in the attitude of this, uhhh, not really nice homosapian if he knew what was going through my wife’s mind. He was busy worrying about his 20 second delay as she was thinking about her health, her family, her job, and maybe her life. So I try to step back, breathe, and ask for patience.
Finally, I look in the mirror. What I see there is a man who is capable of nearly everything I get angry about with others. And I am humbled again that somehow God is patient with me as I work this out. Regular readers know of my admiration for the group Casting Crowns. The song “Who Am I” comes to mind in this context.
Who am I?
That the Lord of all the earth,
Would care to know my name,
Would care to feel my hurt.
Take a moment to meditate on that. Then take a moment to meditate on a later verse.
Who am I?
That the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love
And watch me rise again.
That God sees me and looks on me with love is mind boggling. How can I accept that love and not at least attempt to offer it to others? Because there is not a (Christian cussing warning) dang thing that I have done to deserve mercy like that. From a human perspective that person who incites cynicism probably doesn’t “deserve” grace. But did you? Did I?
Not because of who I am,
But because of what you've done.
Not because of what I've done,
But because of who you are.
So I guess that is the game-plan of how I try to not get hardened and cynical. Realizing who I was and what He has done. Focus on the One who understands rejection and suffering. Realize that others may be enduring real trials of their own. And understand that the God who sees me with all of my junk still looks on me with love.
On some days I execute the game-plan better than others. But that doesn’t mean it is not a good plan. It just means I have to spend more time in the playbook and with my Coach.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.