Cynicism is poison to the soul. How do I know? Because I am a cynic…or at least a recovering cynic. I have a bent toward cynicism and constantly have to work to resist it. At least I am in good company. I first became aware of the hazards of cynicism during a conversation with singer/songwriter Gloria Gaither a few years ago, in which she told me what is her constant prayer: “….for Bill and me, and my children at every stage, that God will protect us from cynicism. I pray that God will keep us simple and childlike in our faith so that we don’t miss the wonder of it all.”
To me, a cynic is a person who does not acknowledge God as the Supreme Ruler of life, who allows what is ultimately best for us. A cynic is an ungrateful person who allows his heart to harden and chooses to complain about the unfairness of his circumstances rather than stay soft-hearted, open and prayerful in what he perceives are his misfortunes. A cynic is also the person who always sees the negative side of life, rather than looking for God’s gifts, which are abundant.The opposite of cynicism I think is gratitude and openness to God’s workings on earth, even when we don’t understand what we see. I doubt the words cynicism or cynic are in the Bible, but you can find these types of people there, so the concept is viable.
In reading John 11 this past week, I realized if anyone had good reason to be cynical, it was Mary and Martha. While Jesus was across the Jordan River, several miles from their hometown of Bethany, their brother Lazarus lay on his deathbed. When it became apparent that only a miracle could save Lazarus’s life, the sisters sent a messenger to Jesus requesting that he come immediately to their brother’s side. They knew the message had been delivered, and they waited for him to come. But instead of dropping everything to be with his friend, Jesus deliberately, intentionally stayed put, and allowed Lazarus to die.
Mary and Martha both questioned Jesus’ behavior and motives. “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died.” Doesn’t this happen often in life? Tragedy or disaster strikes, and our hearts cry out, Lord, you could have prevented this…why did you let it happen? Our hearts are in danger. Cynicism is crouching at the door, capable of destroying everything we do not prayerfully protect.
Then, Jesus wept. The sweetest words in Scripture. He wept at the heartache his friends were experiencing…over the strangle-hold death holds over each one of us. He wept, being fully aware of why He allowed Lazarus to die, and what He was about to do. He took no pleasure in that instant. What good could possibly come from allowing his friend to die?
“This sickness is not unto death,” Jesus said, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vs. 4)
Read: This sickness is not unto permanent death. The ultimate outcome Jesus had in mind was more important than preventing Lazarus from dying. Make no mistake, Lazarus died. The Jews believed that a dead person’s spirit would hover over the body for three days, awaiting an opportunity to rejoin it if possible. Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead four days before coming, by which time the spirit would have fled and the body would have begun to decompose.
What good could come of allowing Lazarus to die? That was at the center of Mary and Martha’s question. But they needn’t wait long for Jesus’ answer.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (vss. 25, 26).
Do I believe this? Do I believe that Jesus can take a terrible situation – even allow tragedy – so that He can redeem it for His magnificent purposes and glory? For our ultimate good? Our response to this question will help shape our hearts into something pliable and beautiful, like the willow that is strong yet bends, or hard and cynical, a deadly predicament. Let us trust Jesus together, as children do, for all that we do not understand.