I’ve always thought of myself as annoyingly positive. Maybe, in reality, I was a complete pessimist, but I at least never knew it. As I look back over my childhood, high school and college years, and especially into seminary, I see an optimist. Even as I got down from time to time, I quickly bounced back and could find something to put some hope in and pull through. But somewhere along the way, since I left Louisville, I find myself much more cynical. When did this happen and what can I do about it? What follows is a bit of a self-indulgent reflection on, well, myself. I believe, however, that some of you might be able to find encouragement from my own struggle with cynicism and together we might be able to move forward to the glory of God.
The roots of my cynicism aren’t exactly easy to pin point. Maybe it stems from my first failed ministry. It was certainly difficult to watch as people I cared about accused me of all manner of theological and philosophical failures in ministry. I was naive when I first entered ministry, but it took only a few church business meetings to see that Christians can be awful to each other. But even after that encounter I was able to move on and be hopeful about the future.
We’ve continued to encounter some very difficult ministry experiences. Conflict with other staff members, accusations from outside the church, sin within the church, and the sheer moral/spiritual poverty of our community. Since joining up with our current church, Revolution, we have encountered Christians who would sooner believe lies about our fellowship than spend time getting to know us, we have witnessed condescension, divisiveness, and outright villany towards us. The start of 2012 was particularly difficult as we walked with several church members through some very painful trials. But still I don’t think these things have made me cynical.
Perhaps it was the unexpected death of my father. Or perhaps still it has been the constant financial strains on my family and I. As I said, it’s hard to nail down where my cynicism came from. Perhaps it’s nothing more than just growing up and seeing the world for the shape it is in, and the church too. But perhaps more pressing than where did my cynicism come from is the question “what am I going to do about it.” Such a question must be answered if I am going to find a way to honor Jesus.
I recognize the ways I justify my cynicism, and maybe you’ll see yourself in some of these defensive answers too. Cynicism seems right because, after all, I do believe that everyone is born a sinner. Aren’t I just being honest about the predicament that we all find ourselves in. It’s not that I distrust specific people, I have a general cautiousness towards all because “all have sinned.” Perhaps less theologically minded is the sort of “I am just trying not to get my hopes up” response. This one was particularly popular for me when I was sending out resumes looking for a job. But while Christians shouldn’t be the sort of naive optimists that I was, neither should we be the complete pessimists. After all, while sin is a reality so is Christ. Redemption changes everything. And it was Paul, a man who had every reason to be distrusting of others, who wrote “love believes all things.” That means if I have genuine love for others I must be willing to risk by putting real trust in them.
Cynicism is easy. The church, after all is a fissiparous organization full of people who are melodramatic and solipsistic. But the church is also the bride of Christ. He loves her and if we love then we (and by we I mean “I”) must be willing to risk being hurt to trust in others. I know that I will be let down, so will you. I know no one is perfect and that sin is real, but “greater is he who is in me, than he who is in the world.” Both naive optimism and strict cynicism are unbiblical. I must be honest both about man’s problem, and Christ’s power if I am going to honor him in my life. That’s going to be a process of change for me.