The Fragile Shield of Cynicism

The Fragile Shield of Cynicism

God’s people, with all our faults and immaturities, are God’s glorious works in progress. Though our hearts are often fickle, they are also cleansed. Therefore, we don’t write one another off, but commit to one another, rejoice with one another, give grace to one another. In the process, we will certainly be disappointed, but Jesus will even more certainly be a sufficient salve for our wounds. 

We’ve all been disappointed by someone. We’ve all known what it feels like to be let down. The bitter taste, the sharp sting, the nagging sense of betrayal — it hurts when people fail us. It hurts even more when the people who fail us are our friends. The deeper the relationship, the deeper the potential wounds from disappointment. David knew that deeper pain:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. (Psalm 55:12–13)

In another psalm, he says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).

As Christians, our deepest relationships are often those found and cultivated within the local church. And rightfully so, for, as the church, we are “members one of another” (Romans 12:5). Unlike all our other relationships, we are called to “love one another with brotherly affection (and) outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). This makes church relationships uniquely deep and glorious. That means they can also be uniquely, deeply disappointing.

Do you know this by experience? If so, how have you sought to handle it?

The Way of the Cynic

One way to handle this potential for disappointment is cynicism. As a defense mechanism, cynicism markets itself as a way to avoid future disappointment by assuming everyone’s an imposter. The cynic leans on his familiar formula: “You only do (action), because you want (result).” He can attribute impure motives to just about anyone, even those in the local church.

  • The young man volunteering in childcare is only trying to impress his girlfriend.
  • The older woman attending multiple Bible studies is only trying to earn the respect and admiration of her peers.
  • The pastor preaching God’s word is only trying to grow his church (and his salary).

No one in our churches, whether in the pulpit, or on the platform, or in the pews, can evade the cynic’s accusations.

Sadly, cynicism often seems to work, at least for the moment. The one who views the whole world as a fraud is very rarely disappointed. Instead, he appears to have exchanged his potential of future disappointment for the present impression of power (“Now I’m the one who gets to criticize”), and control (“I decide if and when to trust them”), and courage (“I don’t need anyone but me”). And yet, those impressions of power, control, and courage, are only just that: counterfeits of the real things. And as counterfeits, they take more than they give.

Consider, after all, the glorious works of God that any cynic must disregard. When face-to-face with a man who has been radically transformed by God, or a woman who has found her happiness in Jesus despite all the suffering she’s endured, or a whole host of elderly believers who have held on faithfully to God since childhood — what can the cynic do but scoff?

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