If you Google the definition of cynicism, you will find the following definition, ‘an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.’ I would suggest that cynicism is more than an inclination, but is a strong distrust or negative presumption often fueled by pain, anger or bitterness towards someone or something. If you look around, you’ll see that Americans today are a skeptical bunch. We are jaded, we have chips on our shoulders, bones to pick and beefs to have - we’re cynical. If only we could see clearly that cynicism is both a liar and a thief who promises self-preservation and safety, but only offers distrust, isolation and bitterness. Cynicism steals our joy. For those who profess Christ and who regularly wrestle with the question, ‘Why do I feel like I am not growing in my faith?’, I would suggest that cynicism might be the cause. For those who do not profess faith in Christ, be assured that cynicism plagues all of us equally without favoritism and there is hope for all of us.
Cynicism is more than an inclination, but is a strong distrust or negative presumption often fueled by pain, anger or bitterness towards someone or something.
How does cynicism come about? Put simply, cynicism is not something that springs up out of nowhere. Nobody wakes up and, without good reason, says ‘I think I’m going to be a cynic now’. Cynicism is a learned behavior and the lessons it teaches are often heartbreaking. The person who has a strong distrust towards the church did not just decide that he or she wanted it that way. Chances are, someone within the church said or did something that cut them to their core. Like a cancer, this distrust spread to not only a cynicism towards that individual but to everyone and all things who are like that person. So, hear me when I say this - I am not diminishing the reason behind your cynicism. Whether it's directed towards me, the church, a political party, whatever it is - chances are, there was and is a good reason for it. We are all a bunch of knotted-up, broken, and oftentimes, selfish people who are doing our best but still leave fragments of pain and anger in our wake. Therefore, while the reason for your cynicism might be justified, that does not change the fact that cynicism is slowly but surely stealing your joy and shaping who you are. Here’s how.
We are jaded, we have chips on our shoulders, bones to pick and beefs to have - we're cynical.
Cynicism promises safety.
If I have a fight with someone and they say something hurtful that cuts me down, I will have a natural desire to avoid that type of experience going forward. The learned cynicism presumes that the other person is purely motivated by self-interest and, therefore, all interactions with that individual must remain guarded. We will dodge them as best we can and when we can’t avoid them, we will play our cards as close to the chest as possible. It’s a form of self-preservation. Cynicism says, ‘if you obey me, then you will never be hurt like that again’. A convincing lie that proves incredibly toxic for our well-being. This form of self-preservation naturally leads to self-isolation which, if COVID has taught us anything, is not good for the human soul. What started as a comment in an argument that could have been forgiven and redeemed, became a perpetual cycle of cynicism and self-isolation that only hurts ourselves.
Cynicism feeds our pride.
We have listened to cynicism’s promise of safety. Now begins the process where we build our glass walls and feed our pride. There’s a verse in Proverbs that reads, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1). The more we isolate ourselves, the more right we believe we are. It is so easy to become an armchair professional that presumes the worst of everybody if we don’t let anyone challenge our thinking. This is not a picture of humility and graciousness, but of cynicism and pride.
Cynicism promises a better life, but cannot deliver.
Cynicism promises to protect and preserve. Again, the experience that led to our cynicism is not something to be ignored or downplayed. There is often legitimate pain and anger rooted in it. Cynicism promises a path to healing through self-preservation and isolation. This does not give healing to our wounds. I have never met a person who has told me that they found healing from their trauma and pain by remaining cynical and angry for years. People do not say, ‘I overcame depression or anxiety or addiction by being cynical towards anyone and everyone’. Cynicism steals life, it does not give it.
On the one hand, we are victims and, on the other, we are participants.
Trauma, past pain, broken relationships are all a tragic and awful reality. There are no shortage of things today that work to make us cynical. Turning on the news or checking social media is enough now to set us on the path of becoming a cynical person. We have done our part in feeding it and nurturing it (and I am, perhaps, the greatest offender). But, know this - I hate cynicism, but I love you. As I attack the lies of cynicism, understand that it is cynicism that should be ashamed, not you. Cynicism promises life but steals it through manipulation and lies. Yet, Christ promises life and gives it abundantly. We live in a broken and tired world with pain and anger all around. It’s our own fault. For every one hurtful thing that someone has done to us, chances are there are ten that we’ve said or done to others. On the one hand, we are victims and, on the other, we are participants. Because of this, no one here on earth will save us. No amount of money, self-help, cathartic moments, idealistic dreams or fond memories will change our present reality. We are in desperate need of a Savior. How wonderful is it that the God of the universe has not left us to ourselves? But, He descended and suffered - was crucified and died and rose again. He defeated sin and death. Now, as sons and daughters of the Risen King we can look cynicism in the eye and say ‘no more’. We can take that courageous first step and choose new life, healing, and forgiveness in Christ not because we have worked for it, but because He has and offers it to us.
No amount of money, self-help, cathartic moments, idealistic dreams or fond memories will change our present reality.
Christian, cynicism is not a pet. It seeks to diminish and choke out your joy in Christ. Therefore, we must regularly stand guard against it, confess it when we discover it, and put it to death. Now, to those who do not have a relationship with Christ, He freely offers this new life of hope and healing to you as well. Our earnest desire for you is that you would share in this experience of healing and transformation in Christ with us. Please, if you want to learn more, contact us and we would love to hear your story and answer any questions.