Cynicism is the perceived ability to see through someone. Cynics believe that they have the power to see through people and know their real motives. A cynical person is someone who thinks that nothing can be judged at face value. They are consistently looking for the angle, the agenda or the real motivation. Cynicism is a lifestyle of negativity. “A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for the coffin.”
Cynics assume everyone has an agenda. A cynic believes there is always something behind everything. Every silver lining has a cloud. Everything has a spin, or a hidden motive. Cynicism is a spiritual disease that is becoming pandemic among Christians. Such pessimism is being viewed as a spiritual quality. Some believe cynicism is just realism over idealism. It is viewed as objective rather than subjective. It is praised as discernment that bests naivety. Cynicism, however, is just repackaged unbelief. It is relational and spiritual rationalism. Consider.
There are no Cynics in the Nursery. There are no babies in the nursery who are cynics. You would also be hard-pressed to find a child in the entirety of your children’s ministry who is cynical. The reason is because we are not born cynical. Children are joyful, innocent, trusting, and believing. That is one of the reasons they are so lovable and stinkin’ cute! They haven’t been formed yet to be suspicious, skeptical and distrusting. We learn to be cynical. We come down with it. We are infected by it.
How does a person become cynical? Simply, we are shaped by our reactions to our experiences. Jacob expressed his cynicism at the prospect of Benjamin being taken to Egypt. It was all based upon previous pain.(Genesis 42:29-38). When people hurt us, break our trust, or demonstrate evil motives and we react by projecting those motives on everyone else, we become cynical. Cynicism is at the heart of racism. Someone in a particular race or ethnicity acts in a deplorable way and we react by projecting those evil motives on an entire group of people. This can happen when a man or a woman has been mistreated by a spouse. Cynicism is the reaction of becoming a “woman hater” or a “man hater” by allowing a domestic hurt to become a cynical attitude towards an entire gender.
Symptoms of Cynicism:
Defrosting Your Heart
How do we overcome cynicism? I remember recognizing more than a few of the symptoms of cynicism in my own life a few years ago. Having received a good dose of "soul pain" at a previous ministry, I found in my spirit suspiciousness towards some of the sheep that I now had the privilege of shepherding. It was completely unfair to these church members for me to project previous pain on them. I also noticed a guarding of my affections to protect myself from vulnerability. A cynical spirit of distrust had taken root. A suspicious attitude had infected my heart.
How did Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles go from being a “doubting Thomas” to confidently proclaiming “my Lord and my God?” Of course, it was his personal, visual encounter with Christ that transformed him. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Cynicism is unbelief, pure and simple. It is distrust in God and others. How do we defrost our souls and receive treatment for cynicism?
1. Rehearse your acceptance in Christ. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18). We are “accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ(Romans 8:37-38). Rehearsing our acceptance in Christ reminds us of Gospel realism. Cynicism will begin to defrost through the heating power of the gospel.
2. Exercise Christ-like love in believing and trusting others. “Love believes all things..(I Cor. 13:7). This doesn’t mean that love is naïve. It simply means that love and trust are intimately connected. You cannot love someone you don’t trust. (I John 4:18)
3. Stop projecting your sinful inclinations on others. “Be more focused on the needs of others than your own needs.”(Philippians 2:4) We must be careful to not project our sinful proclivities, whatever they are , on the motives of others. Just because we may have spoken, thought or acted from wrong motives, doesn’t mean that person is doing the same.
4. No more motive judging. We are regularly warned of not judging the motives of others. The main reason for that command is that we don’t know anyone else’s motives. We don’t even know our own motives! (I Corinthians 4;1-4) As soon as we begin to “connect-the-dots” and speak about “knowing why they did this or that” we are only feeding our cynicism.
5. Don’t punish others for another’s sin. Thankfully, Jacob finally surrendered, “If I be bereaved, I be bereaved.” The outcome of that surrender was being restored to his son Joseph. If he had continued in the frozen state of his cynicism, he may have never enjoyed that sweet reunion. Trust others. Become transparent with others. You can almost hear the crackling of your icy heart begin to melt!
6. Misery loves company. If you find your soul freezing-up, consider if you are regularly in the company of cynical, suspicious, distrusting, motive-judging friends. “Evil companions corrupt good morals.” (I Corinthians 15:33)
C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man says, “You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.” In other words, cynical people, who think they actually see through everyone, actually are no different than a blind man.
You remember singing this tune in Junior Church? "Twelve men went to spy on Canaan, ten were bad and two were good.” The event of those 12 spies that went to check out the promised land, vividly illustrates the difference between cynical unbelief, and joyful trust. The outlook of the 10 spies was filled with doubt, gloom and an “evil report.” (Numbers 13:32).
Opposite that, Joshua and Caleb were filled with optimism and hope. They saw the possibilities that were as bright as the promises of God rather than the problems. They saw God instead of giants and victory rather than defeat. We see these two groups of people represented in our churches today.
Oh Lord, defrost our hearts!
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