For all its complexity, the Bible has a habit of presenting things along pairs of trajectories. Characters in the Bible, like us, are either acting in faith or in fear; out of love or hate; and hope, or, well, hopelessness. So what is the opposite of hope? I was struck by this comment in A Praying Life by Paul Miller (p78ff):
“Cynicism is taught in our schools, embraced by our culture, and lifted up as ideal. It seems insidious to me. Somehow these dulled, partial truths often feel more real to me than the truths taught by Scripture. It is easier for me to feel skepticism and nothing than to feel deep passion. So cynicism takes root and ‘feels’ more real to me than truth. I know that I am not alone in my struggle with cynicism. But most of us are not aware that it is a problem, or that it is taking hold in our hearts. It just feels like we can’t find the joy in things, like we are too aware to trust or hope.”
Miller goes on to resonate with these words from his friend, as he states, “Cynicism creates a numbness toward life.” How true this is. Somehow there is an air of sophistication in some Christian circles today that scoffs at others, at their theology, their practice, their hope, their lack of sophistication. Yet this is not living. It is the pseudo-action of being on the sidelines, protected from hurt, but paralysed from doing anything. Back to Miller:
“To be cynical is to be distant. While offering a false intimacy of being “in the know,” cynicism actually destroys intimacy. It leads to a creeping bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit.”
Yet in contrast, he goes on to state,
“A praying life is just the opposite. It engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty. Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques. It is passive, cocooning itself from the passions of the great cosmic battle we are engaged in. It is without hope.”
Somehow I doubt that the world is watching most of the church and pondering what is the reason for the hope that is in us. It seems to have been squeezed out somewhere along the line. But hope is a far greater feature of the character of God than cynicism. Somehow we need to dare to look at God’s heart and allow our hearts to be stirred with hope again. Just imagine the implications in our prayer lives, in our churches, in our giving, in our involvement in missions, in our families, in our conversations, in our responses to the broken world we live in.
As Paul wrote, ‘may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.’ (Rom.15:13)
Am I just being cynical by observing a lack of hope in many today? What do you think?