The cynic is often perceived by the Christian as one who is far from accepting the message of the gospel. We see cynicism as a barrier to the truth. The heart of a cynic a closed door. The Christian often himself feels threatened by cynicism. Perhaps the negative statements touch a raw nerve, an area in his own heart which feels a little insecure. He may feel his own faith threatened by entering into dialogue with one so burdened with the negative.
I would like to suggest that quite possibly this is not the whole picture. Perhaps the cynic, so open to seeing mistakes, hypocrisy, and hopelessness in this world, may be closer to the truth than the Christian suspects. Perhaps contact with a little treasure in earthen vessels is exactly what he needs.
In my work with the poor and undeserved in medicine over the years, I have encountered many people who have come to help the poor but have become very cynical. Many modern Westerners feel drawn to serve those that are less privileged than they. It may be feelings of guilt, duty, or adventure that draw them. But service based on feelings, without an underlying calling, community, and commitment, is very easily assaulted by the harsh realities of poverty, disease, war, bureaucracy, dependency, and hard work for low pay in an uncomfortable setting.
Romantic notions of saving the world are quickly and roughly replaced by shock realizations: That the world would much rather not be saved, thank you! That helper organizations may make things worse, and in some ways cause damage. That unscrupulous people at every stage seem to skin off a large percentage of money and other resources donated before they ever result in any positive change or the relief of anyone’s pain or suffering. Add this to the educational experience of most helpers, heavy with critical thinking. Behold, the cynic is born.
Of course the Christian should be there to comfort the service-minded and to encourage them in continuing to do their best to help the suffering. But the duty of the Christian does not stop there. The cynic has now reached an opportunity for growth in his or her spiritual life. Perhaps for the first time, he may be open to the very message that the Christian has been trying to convey for years. Let not the believer miss his opportunity by mistaking this for an irritable mood. Nor let the believer simply dismiss the cynic to the world’s only solutions to these questions–chemical soothers or entertaining distractions.
Message of Jesus
Cynicism is not the enemy. For the cynic now sees things are not as they should be. The humanitarian needs to come to that point where he realizes that he is very clearly dissatisfied with what the world has to offer, and what he has to offer to the world. He can then be shown that he knows what he ought to do, but he has no concrete foundation for this knowledge. He has no belief in an objective right and wrong. He needs something more—a metaphysical connection. He needs deliverance from the spiritually malnourished world where cause-and-effect is the only available staple. Have mercy on his soul and give him the message of Jesus–that we love because God first loved us.
The cynic may be at one of several points on the change process–from pre-contemplation to readiness to pray to God for salvation. One must be sensitive and gentle with the message, though without holding back the truth. Assaulting the cynic with Bible verses usually does not help. Neither is this the time to rub it in: I told you so. But it is similar to the practice of medicine, where washing out an abscess is in fact merciful–though painful at the time.
Outline to the cynic as much of the truth as he can hear. That God is good. That the evil he sees so horrifyingly clear, is the fruit of wrong choices of humankind from the beginning. That this reality, referred to by Christians as “sin”, has permanently altered the universe and blossomed all that is hopeless and subject to decay. That this is the true source of disease, death, war, hunger, poverty, slavery, abuse, and everything that is evil. That God in his great mercy and despite the risks to the stability of the good and his own righteous self, interacted with the world over the years in giving us his message of hope and truth through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets.
Ultimately he provided a sacrifice to make right all the wrongs of the world: Jesus Christ. All of the wrath of God, that we sinful, selfish, defective humans deserved, was put on him in the fulcrum of history–the cross. Showing his power over sin and death and all that is evil in the world, God raised Jesus physically from the dead. God has given this unalterable promise to the weak, hurting, abused, broken people of the world: he will come back with a judgment. One day he will make all things right, all things new, and all things good. We need not imagine that this world and the people in it are good at the core. Evidence shows us the opposite. But we have hope that God has a way of making them and us good. That is through Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Heart Surgeon
It is not enough for the cynic to hear that a vague metaphysical hope may help him do his job, though that idea may be the next step on his journey. An inquiry as to what he thinks of eternity, and who he thinks Jesus is may be in order. From there, an explanation of the basic truths can be discussed. Sin is much easier to see as the essential problem when it is so obviously hurting those people you came to help. Selfish warlords, corrupt governments, people hurting themselves and others. Wrong choices. The Bible says that bad choices are what separate us from God, each other, and the perfect world that God wants to give us.
Too often the Christian is expected to sooth and bandage what instead requires surgery. May he beware of this trap and risk of subjecting the patient to a more dangerous course. In prayer and kind, but firm, words, which God himself has given, bring the cynic the presence of Jesus, the heart surgeon. What the seeker hoped would be a strong, serving, loving heart, which is now aching, can be replaced by the maker of hearts of flesh.