Didn’t See It Coming – Cynicism

This message is a part of our Didn’t See It Coming Series.
Find the rest of the messages in this series here.

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When I graduated from Bible College I just knew that I was going to turn the world upside down. I was so excited to go out and do ministry and lead a group of people who were passionate about transforming their lives and the life of their community. When Nicole and I arrived here in Chandler I was full of that optimism and idealism. However, we hadn’t even finished unpacking the Penske truck when I started to realize that it wasn’t going to be like I imagined. One of the people who was helping us unpack told my dad that he had been thinking about leaving the church for a while because it was such a long drive. No one had told me in Bible College that time a church transitions as leadership is when a lot of people who have been on the fence decide to cut out.  That guy ended up staying several years, but we lost 7 people who had been in the church for quite some time, and when the average attendance is right above 40, that’s killer.

I threw myself into trying to meet as many people here in the community as possible. Nicole and I made rounds having dinner with the members a couple nights a week and on the other evenings Bro Helms and I would call on people who he knew to introduce me. On Saturdays I would make visits with Darrel Alvis. On one of the first Saturdays we visited a man who at the time lived in the trailer park just to our East. We’ll call this guy Joe. Joe’s kids had been riding our church van to church on Wednesday evenings and after our visit at his house, he and his wife started bringing the kids on Sundays.  Joe showed up at my house one evening to talk about all the things going on his life. He called me often. We had several talks at the church as well.  Joe’s family had lots of problems and they had very little money, so there were a couple of occasions where the church bought them gas for their car and the deacons would buy them groceries…

I thought, alright! This is how it’s supposed to be, we are doing ministry, helping people with their problems, this is great.  Then one Sunday during my sermon Joe got this sour look on his face- when there are just a few people in the sanctuary it’s a lot easier to study faces while you preach…Then he got up and walked out. I caught up with him later that week, and I was relived to find out he had misheard something I said. He wasn’t angry about something I didn’t say, this will be easy to sort out. There’s that optimism and idealism again. Joe wouldn’t hear me out. He was convinced he heard what he heard and that was the end of it.

Towards the end of that tense conversation he said something along the lines “if you really cared about people…” As I walked away I thought, I’ve not spent more time or given more resources to anyone here than this family and he’s convinced I don’t care for people? A little piece of me died in that walk back to the car. A huge chunk of my idealism dissipated. I didn’t quit ministry, I didn’t stop serving God…. I still loved communicating God’s Word in a clear and compelling way, I still loved people, but my idealism had run headlong into realism. To appreciate cynicism, you need to understand where it comes from.

Cynicism starts when idealism crashes into realism.

Solomon speaks of this in the Book of Ecclesiastes. We did a study on Ecclesiastes last year during one of our Sunday night electives and I remember someone asking, what’s this guy’s deal? Is he saved? Is he suicidal? Ecclesiastes is the Cynics guide to the Galaxy. Solomon was the wisest man who had lived and what he says in Ecclesiastes is that his increased knowledge brought increased sorrow.

2b All is vanity
3What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
18For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
Cynicism starts because you know too much.

No one is cynical about something they know nothing about, they’re cynical because they got close and saw that all of the defects, the issues, and the problems… They saw how the sausage gets made.  My friend from High School said once that his family went to a cheese dairy on a trip and he couldn’t eat cheese for a week afterward. Since Cynicism creeps in when we know too much, cynicism happens to people who care…

Cynicism doesn’t happen because you don’t care, it starts because you do.

Joe told me that I didn’t care and that hurt because I do care! If I didn’t care I wouldn’t have been concerned when he walked out, I wouldn’t have followed up with him after, I wouldn’t have tried to clear things up…

When you’ve experienced hurt, when you’ve given and you’ve tried and people have turned on you, betrayed you, taken advantage of you, out of self-preservation you begin to protect yourself from being hurt again. The body is built with pain receptors so that we know when something is harmful. Place your hand on a hot stove, it burns but you learn really quick that you shouldn’t do that… We can do the same thing emotionally.  We help someone and they burn us, we learn we shouldn’t do that… We say, “never doing that again.”

-You’ve fallen in love and had your heart broken too many time and now you won’t open up to another man or woman, you’re holding a piece of your heart back so it can be broken again.

-You’ve helped an acquaintance land a job and then they gossip about you to your coworkers or politic their way into a position you were aspiring to stepping on anyone who gets in their way, even you. You say, never again.

-You’ve helped your cousin or brother-in-law out of jam after jam and he still continues to make awful financial decisions and you’ve decided he’ll never change so what’s the point?

-You’ve reached out for help from people is places of authority but you see that they’re corrupt and use their position to take advantage of others so you don’t trust anyone in authority…

What happens in cynicism is that we project past disappointments onto new situations.

The cynical live by the motto: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
But in cynicism you don’t apply that statement to one relationship, but to all. You begin to generalize…
I had a coworker stab me in the back, so I don’t trust anyone at work. 
I had a girlfriend cheat on me, so I don’t trust any women. I had a relative steal from me, so I don’t like any of my family.

Cynicism projects past disappointments onto new situations.

What happened for me was that after my run in with Joe, any time someone like would show up, I’d think I know where this is going. I know how this ends, so I’d hold back. I’d hesitate. I’d stay closed off…Here’s what’s even tougher… I was often right!

Cynicism leads to generalizing… applying one particular situation to all situations, which brings about the death of trust, hope, and belief. – Nieuwhoff

Here’s the thing the cynic forgets though…. I was often wrong. I only remembered the times that my inner predictions were spot on and I rationalized the times I was off… It was confirmation bias.

Cynics think they’re protecting themselves in the present based on experiences from the past, but really they’re infecting the future with the heartache of their past.

When you’re cynical, you think you’re protecting yourself in the present based on what you’ve learned in the past, but really you are just infecting the future with the heartache of the past. Let me say that again!
When you’re cynical, you think you’re protecting yourself in the present based on what you’ve learned in the past, but really you are just infecting the future with the heartache of the past.

We can actually get to the place where we become evangelists for cynicism. We warn people with less experience, or the idealistic younger people about the hurt and heartache that’s coming, we try to convince them to set their hope aside. There’s definitely value in being prepared for hardship, after all this series about preparing for the obstacles that are ahead, but taking away hope is not the answer.

So what’s the answer?

Our culture would say, look on the bright side. Look at the positives, focus on the silver linings… I’d like to push a little deeper. The answer to cynicism is not the death of trust and caring and it’s not a selective outlook…

The cure for cynicism is resilient hope.

I’m currently reading Scott Harrison’s autobiography. He volunteered with Mercy Ships. He was overwhelmed at the number of people who came to this soccer stadium in the first city they worked in, he started to realize that they wouldn’t be able to help many of these people. Their conditions were terminal, they didn’t have the staffing or equipment or capacity… He left his post and found a tunnel off the field and sobbed.  Dr Gary found and said, Scott we can’t help everyone, but we are going to help as many as we can. Focus on the hope Scott, focus on the hope.

In Ephesians we have a letter from Paul who had seen so much heartache. He’d been betrayed. Been abandoned. Been thrown in prison. Been beaten. He’d eventually be beheaded. I want you to read the words he writes in the opening chapter of this letter to the church in Ephesus.

15Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,

16Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:

18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,

20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Come on! Forget about looking at the bright side, look at the one who can make all things new! Look at the one who can make us all different! He says, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling,  The one who God raised from the dead! He says, not only did he raise him from the dead, he placed him at the right hand of the throne in heaven and gave him all power over principalities and powers….

There is nothing that Jesus can’t overcome!

He overcame death and he has power over the most powerful of evil forces! Paul would also write a letter to the young man he had trained for ministry and left to Pastor the church in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 2

8Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
9Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
10Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Paul said I endure all things because I keep my eyes on Christ and I stay in the mission because of what I know he can do in the life of those who believe on Him!

When Idealism meets realism it is easy to slip into Cynicism, unless you’ve got a reason to hope in the face of reality. If you’ve got a reason to hope in spite of the brokenness of this world, the brokenness of our world…

22And hath put all things under his feet,

We don’t have hope because we only think on the good things, we have hope because we trust in the one who is over all things.

I don’t have hope because I look where my faith can be restored in humanity, I have hope because I look where my faith is assured in Christ.