Coping with Cynicism and Learning to Dream Again

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. . . . When he [Peter] realized this [that is, that God had miraculously freed him from prison], he went to the house of Mary . . . where many were gathered together and were praying(Acts 12:5, 12).

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After God miraculously frees Peter from prison (Acts 12:6-11), he comes to Mary’s house where a servant girl named Rhoda answers the door. Completely stunned by his presence, she hurries to let the rest of the people in the house know that Peter’s at the door. Their response is classic: “You are out of your mind” (V. 15). These first-century Jews all of a sudden sound like Enlightenment rationalists! You remember the Enlightenment era, right? The age that taught us not to trust every word of Scripture and informed us that the miraculous stories recorded in the Bible were added by power-hungry clergy to keep people ignorant.[1]

We can blame that era if we want, but when I read Acts 12 I see that the natural bent of the human heart is unbelief. “Our base problem is unbelief,” writes theologian Cornelius Plantinga.[2] Hence, he accurately notes that not only is sin lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4) but also faithlessness.

Nothing confronts us with our own unbelief, I think, more than when we try to pray and read the Bible. When you read the Bible you are immediately confronted with the supernatural. And our cynical culture has no place for the miraculous. I suppose in some way this makes sense because the Cynics, going all the way back to their founder Diogenes of Sinope, were always critical of religion. [3]

But what is cynicism? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How does it harm us as followers of Christ? Paul Miller notes that “Cynicism begins with the wry assurance that everyone has an angle. Behind every silver lining is a cloud. The cynic is always observing, critiquing, but never engaged, loving, and hoping.”[4] He goes on to observe that “To be cynical is to be distant. . . . It leads to a creeping bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit.” Can you see how this would make it hard to pray? Can you imagine how a cynic would respond when he or she hears that God, our loving heavenly Father, sent his Son to die for our sins so that we could be free and experience abundant life in the here and now? “You are out of your mind” seems about right.

Whereas cynicism kills hope, God calls his people to believe the impossible! This is evident throughout Scripture. Think of Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul.

Jesus calls us to be childlike and to live in the wonder of his love and grace. But as Miller writes elsewhere, “The cynic is never fooled, so he is never delighted. . . . Both the child and cynic walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd.”[5]

If you looked at your heart honestly today, would you say there is a root of cynicism in your life? Or would you characterize your disposition as childlike? God calls us to childlike wonder.

My kids don’t approach me with cynical spirits; they just crawl into my lap and ask me for help, trusting me because they know I love them. Your heavenly Father loves you. So crawl into his lap and ask him for good things. Make your request known. He can do the miraculous, including freeing someone from a prison. And, O by the way, he can raise the dead too. The latter means he can do the former.

Father, today gives us the grace to overcome our cynical spirits and learn to dream again. May we view the world with childlike wonder and swim in the ocean of your love.

 

 

[1] Roy Porter, The Enlightenment, Studies in European History 2nd ed. (NY: Palgrave, 2001), 14, 34.

 [2] Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 61.

[3] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 349-350.

[4] Paul Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2009), 79.

[5] Ibid., 87.

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