Jesus And Cynicism

CynicHave you ever been around a cynic?

I’m not talking about a critical thinker or a skeptic. Those are different. I’m talking about a cynic: someone who typically assumes the worst of people and their intentions for doing what they do; a person who sees the flaws in just about everything and goes out of his or her way to point them out. You know the kind I’m talking about? Have you ever had a cynic focus his negativity your way?

If so, I am going to guess you probably just had an emotional response to that question. Chances are that emotional response wasn’t a positive one. Perhaps it brings to memory a time when you felt your family, your work, or your character were unfairly criticized. Perhaps it brings back feelings of hurt, betrayal, or insecurity. Those can stick around for a long time, can’t they?

Cynicism can be powerful. Perhaps that’s why some find it so alluring.

Cynicism can be powerful. Perhaps that’s why some find it so alluring. A cynic can achieve maximum impact with minimal effort. With a few strategically chosen hurtful words delivered at a particularly low or vulnerable moment, a cynic can inflict pain on just about anyone. All of this without ever having to risk, or create, or contribute anything themselves. How lazy.

It’s not hard to find the negative in just about everything. Even a child can do that. It doesn’t take any work. Being cynical doesn’t require any courage or skin in the game. A cynic can safely sit on the sidelines and critique every little step taken by those in the game. (Sadly, entire careers have been built on this.)  It takes considerably more work to find and celebrate that which is beautiful, and far more still to actually step out and create that something. That takes risk and courage. That takes blood, sweat, and tears. A cynic wouldn’t dare.

Cynicism runs counter to the message and person of Jesus.

Cynicism is far more than lazy; it is destructive. Perhaps no where is this more true than in a community of faith. Cynicism is toxic to discipleship. The constant negativity and relentless pessimism is like an aggressive virus that plays on our personal disappointments and depravity, and spreads throughout the body. Once it takes hold, it can be hard to purge. But purged it must be because cynicism runs counter to the message and person of Jesus.

Don’t believe me? Consider these:

  • A cynic is self-centered. Jesus is self-giving.
  • A cynic dwells in darkness. Jesus brings all things into the light.
  • A cynic has a low view of humanity. Jesus died for humanity.
  • A cynic insists on tearing people down. Jesus desires to build his people up.
  • A cynic sees the worst in a person. Jesus sees someone who can be redeemed, transformed and used for good.
  • A cynic uses words as a weapon to wound. Jesus and his disciples speak words to bring life to the wounded.
  • A cynic builds himself up by mocking others. Jesus lays down his own life so others can be filled with life.
  • A cynic looks at a person and sees darkness. Jesus looks at a person and sees the image of God waiting to be fully restored.
  • A cynic assumes people in the end get what they deserve. Jesus does all He can to ensure as many as possible get what they do not deserve.

The truth is there are seasons when each of us feels the magnetic pull towards cynicism. It can be so tempting to give in. Cynicism requires less of us. It allows us to focus on the shortcomings of everything and everyone around us without ever having to deal with the real condition of our own heart. But the way of Jesus is not the way of the cynic. Those two roads go in two very different directions. Each represents two vastly different ways of seeing the world and being present in it.

Don’t get me wrong, Jesus loves cynics. He died for cynics. But not just to save them; He died also to change them.

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