Archives For cynicism

What’s the difference between a prophet and a cynic? No punchline here.  That’s an honest question.

Last week we talked about Hard Truth, that the truth is offensive and really does hurt sometimes.  But when does hard truth cross the line and become wicked cynicism (you have to say that with your best Boston accent)?  Are they even points on the same continuum?

Cynicism is easy.  It’s not hard to identify corruption in the brokenness of humanity, and being hurt by it isn’t a question of if, but when. Unfortunately, the church isn’t much different.  And our heightened expectations in spiritual environments just adds to the disappointment when the proximity of human interaction shows it’s ugly side.

“…cynicism emerges like an evil alien from some b-rate horror flick.”

Sometimes we take it on the chin and lower our expectations.  Sometimes we might even lose our naivete and learn to rightly speak hard truths.  But far too often we cocoon our disillusionment and begin nurturing a cesspool of anger and resentment.  And cynicism emerges like an evil alien from some b-rate horror flick.

There’s a fundamental difference between a proclaimer of truth and a cynic. Prophetic voices speak hard truths, but they’re God’s truths, spoken in response to His Word and His revelation.  The motive is obedience.  The desired outcome redemption.

Cynics are selfish.  And while their words may carry some nuggets of truth, their motives are self-gratifying.  Self-justifying.  Self-righteous.  Cynicis aren’t seeking restoration, only the euphoria of pointing a finger at other people’s junk. The want to be right, not reconciled.

“Cynicis aren’t seeking restoration, only the euphoria of pointing a finger at other people’s junk.”

The Old Testament prophets agonized, even wept over their words. Cynics embrace theirs with glee, almost as if they desire to spread the pain and disappointment that drives the core of their own existence.

Becoming a cynic is almost natural, the path of least resistance.  Seeing beauty and potential amidst the brokenness of humanity is the tough road. Embracing Christ’s redemption is the challenge, and also our calling.

Some days I’m a cynic.

But what if we made this pact?  Instead of just pointing out what’s wrong, let’s endeavor to create what’s right. Cynicism is just words.  Let’s allow hard truth to become action.

A friend once gave me a great piece of advice: lose your naivete, but don’t become cynical.  And this guy knew what he was talking about.  He was a member of Ted Haggard’s New Life staff when the bottom dropped out, when the image of this seemingly unshakable leader disintegrated into tabloid gossip and endless material for late-night TV monologues (my friend is still on staff at New Life by the way, and this amazing community of believers has rebounded with the kind of grace and strength only God can provide).

I’ve been trying to heed this advice.  Naive was definitely a good descriptor for me.  I grew up in the American, Evangelical church-bubble and blindly trusted all its assertions, philosophies, and leaders with little or no questions.  In many ways, I had allowed my understanding of God and His Kingdom to be completely shaped by this sub-culture, assuming everyone had God’s and my best interest in mind.  It was all I knew.  I was naive.

“The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.” -Proverbs 14:15 (MSG)

But as I began to develop my own relationship with Christ and not just Midwestern church culture, His personal revelations began to unfold a bigger Kingdom understanding.  I began to change (and hopefully still am changing) from the inside out as my connection to God Himself began to overtake my cultural assumptions of who He is and what His Kingdom is all about.  That beautiful revelation is God’s deepest desire for all of us, but it comes with a warning label for our broken, human tendencies.

Awakening from a slumbering naivete brings new awareness to before-unseen truth dancing all around you.  At times, it seems almost too much to digest.  But unchecked, it’s so easy – even impulsive, to swing the pendulum from enlightenment to disdain, from healthy questioning to caustic hatred, from God-centered revelation to man-centered distrust.

Cynicism is not an end result of God’s revelation.  But I see the tendency to overshoot the mark in myself and many others who are sincerely trying to re-think church.  Challenging assumptions is healthy and wise.  Defining the whole by its abuses is foolish and destructive.  It’s the definition of cynicism.  And while disdain for the status quo can be the catalyst to release needed passion, cynics tend to only point out what’s wrong instead of endeavoring to create what’s right.

“Cynics look high and low for wisdom – and never find it…” -Proverbs 14:6 (MSG)

So what about you?  Are you naive?  Do you really have a revelatory relationship with the God of the universe, or just this thing we call the church and its American cultural expression?  Do you challenge assumptions?  Do you pursue the hard answers?  Do you intimately know the heart of God, or do you just settle for easy explanations and happy sound bytes that fit your cultural assumptions and who you need God to be inside your sheltered worldview? (Wow, that’s a mouthful).

Or have you attempted to treat that naivete by becoming an obnoxious cynic, defining everything by its worst perversion, assuming everything and everyone has an ulterior motive or self-centered ambition?  You’re not doing the Kingdom of God any favors either.  Take my friend’s advice:

“Lose your naivete, but don’t become a cynic.”

The authentic Kingdom of God is found in that tension.


Erik Cooper —  April 6, 2009 — Leave a comment

As children we’re naturally inquisitive.  We question everything.  Not out of doubt or distrust, but simply because experience has given us no point of reference.  So we ask…sometimes obnoxiously, often irritatingly…why? I can subliminally hear my 3 year old son pepperng me even now.  “Why daddy…why?  Daddy…why?  Why?  (Because I said so!  Every dad’s trump card, right?).

But somewhere along the line, most of us lose that curiosity and one of two things happens.  We either stop asking why and all of life becomes habitual, cultural, the norm.  Or we can’t find a good answer to why and cynicism and disillusionment overtake our sense of wonder.

Why do we go to church? Now there’s a great question that many of us have simply stopped asking.  We do it out of habit, out of ritual, out of obligation.  Our parents made us.  Our guilt drives us.  Culture overtakes intentionality and we no longer even ask the question.  We just do it…because…just because.

Or we just never found a good answer.  Watching others do something we see absolutely no reason for is a recipe for cynical skepticism.  Some of us live underneath layers of unanswered “why’s,” and they’ve made us cold, hard, and calloused.

God is not afraid of our why’s.  In fact, He wants us to ask them, dig into them, mine them out.  He loves our pursuit.  Have you stopped askingLost sight of a good answer?  Go ahead and ask it…why? You just might be surprised at the answers.