Despite my ongoing protests to myself about making the most of my time, I read quite a lot of opinion pieces about the recent Royal Wedding. Only one thing has stuck in my head, something that Mike Betts wrote:
“Cynicism is unbecoming in a Christian.  So is naivety, but if I have to choose, I go for naive every time.”
Is he right?

A couple of quotes to explain cynicism:
“Idealism is what precedes experience. Cynicism is what follows.” (David T. Wolf)
“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” (H.L. Mencken)
It’s a sense of disillusionment, betrayal even, which affects how a person sees the world. Temptations abound:

  • When a politician says, ‘Trust me.’
  • When we get an email that begins, ‘Congratulations, you’re a lucky winner!’
  • When we discover that a colleague said one thing to us and another behind our back.
  • When we see a footballer kissing the badge on their shirt, or their wife.
  • When a newspaper tells us that it is printing the story ‘in the public interest’.

There’s actually a book in the Bible which seems full of cynicism. Ecclesiastes is the observations of a man at the end of his life. He lays it on so thick that some scholars think that he’s actually the Bible’s Frankie Boyle.
“I said in my heart, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life.” (2:15-17)
“If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed...” (5:8)
“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (9:11)
If the world is as messed-up and unfair as Ecclesiastes suggests, why shouldn’t we be cynical? Well, how attractive is the life of a cynic?

The cynic
In an old episode of The Simpsons, Homer tells his kids, “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” If you expect everything to go wrong, why try anything? Cynicism keeps you in your chair, tells you to sit on the sidelines watching fools try, with a wry smile on your face and the grim satisfaction of knowing that at some point you’ll be able to say, ‘Told you so.’

If we look in this couch potato’s heart we see even more to concern us: Homer’s advice is that of one who was hurt but never addressed their pain, and now the wound has become gangrenous. The cynic is stuck in their chair and poison is spreading through their soul – they can’t enjoy anything.

And finally, they can’t see properly. Cynics think they see the world clearly but in fact they’re short-sighted. Hidden in Ecclesiastes but loudly declared elsewhere in the Bible is the antidote to cynicism, a veto against it: hope. For the cynic, the final word is disappointment, they are blind to anything beyond the present evil; for the Christian, the final word is Christ, and that means hope.

Is God cynical?
God, who knows more about perfection than any of us, and more about sin than we do, is not cynical. In the Gospels we see that while Jesus was under no illusions about the state of mankind, the only sneering cynics on the scene were His enemies.

Why isn’t He cynical? Because He knows how history is going to end, He has seen the Day when every wrong deed will be judged and punished, and a staggering number of people will be rescued to spend forever with Him in joy. Just as every moment of hope and joy in Romeo and Juliet is tinged with sadness because we already know the tragic ending, so everything that happens in this world must be illuminated with future hope. It’s not that everything is great, it’s that what is coming is greater. Ultimately, the wide-eyed naïf is closer to reality than the hard-hearted cynic because tomorrow will be better than today. Christ knows this, it is unbecoming in Christians to live otherwise.

Resisting cynicism
So what can we do to avoid becoming cynical? Choose what can stay in your heart and what can’t.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Examine the character of the company you keep: The people you spend your time with, the entertainment you consume, and cultures you move in, will have an effect on you, for good or bad, so be careful how much time you spend with cynics.

When we’re hurt or see wrongdoing, poison seeps into us. We must take action against this, injecting hope again and again.
“Rejoice in the Lord always [the prisoner Paul says]; again I will say, Rejoice... Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:4,8)
I’m willing to bet that most of us aren’t doing this to the extent that the Bible encourages. It’s not ignoring the evil, foolishness or cynicism of a world full of people sinning; it’s right to be careful and discerning and angry – but ultimately it’s choosing a way of thinking that is Christlike, that doesn’t let wrong have the final word.

This must lead to Christlike actions: bringing His hope-filled Kingdom to earth right now. Faced with the injustices of the world’s financial systems, what can I do? The temptation is to cynically damn them all and refuse to care. Instead, I make sure my money is invested in organisations with trustworthy ethical policies. And some of you may be in a position make changes on a much larger scale. And God will hold everyone to account for what they did with what He gave them.

Finally, come to God. He is not cynical, He gives us good things, He has made incredible promises, and He is the guarantee that they will happen. As we see Him, we are changed: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...” (Galatians 5:22)