Years ago I read a book entitled: God is Not: Religious, Nice, “One of Us,” An American, A Capitalist by D. Brent Laytham. The book is a short collection of essays that intends to subvert pop culture’s view of God, especially that of most conservative evangelicals. I recommend it to those already suscpicious of the American Jesus.
I would like to add one more to the “God is Not…” list. This addition is meant to be a corrective to what has quickly become vogue among those who would think of themselves as “enlightened” in the church. I’m talking about cynicism. And my deep concern is for those who revel in it.
Last year I wrote a blog post called On Christian Cynicism. I talked about how I left fundamentalism and then reveled in cynicism for a time. I strongly suggest that you read, or re-read, that post before reading this one.
Do you feel like your drowning in cynicism? Maybe you’re happy in it, I don’t know. If you’re having a difficult time trading in your cynicism for hopeful realism, and you truly desire to be renewed, I want to share some brief thoughts and leave you with some practical steps to healing.
If you’re a cynic saint, please seriously consider my challenge and encouragement to you. May you be surprised by the hope God gives.
Repenting of Cynicism
I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with cynicism. I think of myself as a recovering cynic who must daily trade in his cynicism for hopeful realism. I haven’t repented of cynicism. I’m repenting of it, daily.
I have good days. I also have good weeks. But like many of you, I know that it’s all too easy to do a hard dive into a cynical depression after watching the news, listening to some really bad “Christian” music on the radio, or surveying my Facebook newsfeed. And that’s just the beginning.
Somedays it’s enough to make you want to quit.
I don’t trust politicians. I think the American Empire marches on with or without your vote. Most days I think insurance companies are a ministry of Satan. I think the news media (every network) is about entertainment, not investigative reporting and the truth. Nobody is fair and balanced.
It appears to me that the US medical industry has been hijacked by greedy doctors and pharmaceutical companies. I’m told repeatedly that my unvaccinated child is a threat to all the vaccinated children in the country. I can’t help but feel like we’re living in The Twilight Zone.
I’m leery of realtors, lawyers, and car salesmen. I’m tempted to think that every religious institution and business corporation is after your money. We’re not people anymore, just targeted consumers.
Oh, and I believe in conspiracies.
All of this (and much more) has made me suspicious of those who disagree with my perspective. Like I said, I know it’s easy to be cynical these days. So I think it’s important for us to be repenting of our cynicism regularly.
But let me be clear. It’s not cynicism simply to acknowledge reality. It’s just that we can’t fully know what’s real without considering the God revealed in Jesus. Reality must conform to the good news of Christ.
Cynicism leads to despair. Repent of it when it’s at work in you.
Repent by believing that God is greater than the evil at work in the world. He calls us to be people of hope. Hopeful realism is about resurrection and the promise of new creation. It allows us to see the Spirit of God at work, and it empowers us to join him in shaping God’s good future.
The God of Hope
According to Jesus, God is not cynical. So why are we you? Why are we so cynical? Think about it. If we truly believe in the God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then how can we choose to be cynical?
Jesus defeated sin and death! The Messiah took on lies, greed, violence, and the corruption of the world, and he loved his enemies to death. His resurrection guarantees a final renewal to come (1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5:5).
That renewal is coming about though the church. Yes, I know. This may be the most difficult truth for any cynic saint to believe, but it’s true. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you must believe in this.
Jesus didn’t make fun of those that didn’t get it. Yes, he was angry with the religious hypocrites, but he didn’t retreat from their places of worship. He never gave up on them. He mourned for those in bondage.
Jesus was in anguish over Jerusalem. All of the disfunction prompted Jesus to action, not bitter isolation. Our Lord believed that the Kingdom would triumph. He was hopeful for the world. His trust was in the Father.
The Kingdom of God is alive and well! Do you believe this? Do you really believe it? If so, you can’t remain in your cynicism. You must be intentional about brokenness, repentance, and action. You must move.
The God revealed in Jesus has made a way to rise above our cynicism. We can’t speak and live as people with no hope. We’re called to “boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2).
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul, Eph. 3:10-11
It seems to me that this truth that God is going to transform the world through the church was difficult even for Paul and the early church. Have you read 1 Corinthians? Lots of room for cynicism. But it’s true!
It didn’t work out so well for Israel. So, what confidence can we have that it’s gonna work with the church? The difference is that Christ, the risen Lord, is head of the church (Eph 5:34; Col 1:18). And his Spirit has been given to all the saints to be agents of new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
We must choose to be difference makers. If we are real followers of Jesus, we can’t abandon the church. We must work to transform our communities, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ (Matt 28:18-20).
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)
Embracing Hopeful Realism
You must be intentional about moving out of cynicism if you want to embrace hopeful realism. Please consider the following.
- Don’t give up meeting with the church (Heb 10:23-25). It doesn’t matter if it’s a house church or a larger organized fellowship. You were created for community. When you’re outside a worshipping community of believers, you’re vulnerable. Isolation is a breeding ground for cynicism. Join a church. Stop making excuses for why you’re not in fellowship. You’re just as messed up as the rest of us.
- Cynicism, like misery, loves company. Don’t network with others who are cynical. It may make you feel better to congregate with other cynics for a time, but in the end it will kill your spiritual life if you don’t move out of it. If you’re surrounded by other Christians who are constantly negative, sarcastic, and cynical, it’s time to make a change. In your state, they will keep you from moving on.
- Be careful not to form your theology (setting it in concrete) when you’re in a season of cynicism, especially when you’re not in face-to-face community with others. Cynicism clouds your thinking. I’ve noticed that it pushes people to extremes. It’s also easy to be persuaded by other cynical, secular-thinking people, who need healing themselves. You don’t want to follow after those folks.
- Make a concerted effort to be constructive. It’s important to deconstruct theology and church systems, but do it with intentions of offering solutions. Stop being critical of everything. If you feel that something deserves critique, offer a healthy alternative that builds up the Body of Christ. Be helpful, not negative. Beware of toxic speech, and be careful of spreading it around to others.
- Listen to others who have been where you are. If you’re tired of living as a cynic saint and want to embrace hopeful realism, you need to let the light of others shine into your life. You’re not the first believer to feel frustrated and angry with the church and the world. Take notice of others who have gone before you and rebounded with a renewed sense of purpose. You’re not alone.
- Serve others and give to those in need around you. It’s usually those folks who are not involved in Kingdom work that don’t discover the power of healing the Spirit can bring. Serve out of your deficit. Give even though you don’t feel like it. I don’t mean fake it until you feel it. I mean that you should do what Christ has commanded you and be surprised by the hope that will flood into your life.
- Ask the God of hope to break your hardshell and renew your heart. Tell the Lord that you want new eyes to see the church and the world the way he does. Pray that God will give you the strength to let go of that which you falsely believed empowered you: a cynical heart and mind. Our Father is faithful to give you the enduring Spirit of hope that he gave Jesus in the face of sin and death.
My friends, God is not cynical. His Son has proved it by the power of his resurrection. Therefore, we are children of hope. May you find healing for your souls as you persevere in the power of his Spirit.
Faith. Hope. Love.
D.D. Flowers, 2013.