In his book, Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion, Dick Keyes, unmasks the truth about the pervasive reality of cynicism.
“Cynicism,” he wrote, “does not get the scrutiny it deserves…it has some privileged position that makes it immune to serious challenge.”
“In some groups, particularly those associated with media and higher education, cynicism seems to have the status of common sense or self-evident truth. It becomes the default setting of many conversations. We don’t think to question it when it is all around us. We don’t see our eye-glasses, we only see everything else through them.”
“Some embrace cynicism with pride and defiance. Others suffer from a cynicism that they do not want but feel forced to adopt by honesty. Still others fight against it with whatever they find handy, and far more drift into it by accident with little awareness of what has happened.”
But, as Keyes observes: “Attempts to escape our own internal cynical voices are not easy.” But escape we must escape—if—we are people who believe in Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth. Yes, we must be honesty and discerning. We must strive to see through triviality, hypocrisy, flattery, evil agendas and false motives. We must not be gullible and susceptible to con-artistry and sentimental optimism. Yet, we dare not allow ourselves to become ridden with suspicions and hardened by cynicism.
Keyes acknowledged that there is “something too superficial about cynicism. It seemed too complete in its tidy and convenient dismissal of virtue. I realized that many of the key cynical judgments I had made were overreaching what I could actually know.”
Describing his own journey:
“I should say a word about my own history with cynicism. It goes back as far as I can remember. On a scale with cynicism at one end and sentimental optimism at the other, I have always been much closer to the cynicism pole. My instincts and internal voices have always gravitated toward suspicion when there is any doubt.”
“I became a Christian in my early twenties both because of my cynicism and in spite of it. Unlike other worldviews that I had considered, I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses…”
“Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders. I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that.” (pp.15-16)
Scripture on Cynicism:
Hebrews 12:15 offers a needed word of warning: “Be watchful” (over each other-an implied community responsibility) that no one misses (or “fails to grasp”) the grace of God (misunderstands God’s grace; see: 12:1-11)—that no bitter root grows up—like an unnoticed weed in the garden of your heart—to cause trouble and defile many. Bitter, cynical people are troubled and defiled souls who are infectiously poisonous.
Many marriages have been poisoned by cynical attitudes. Husbands or wives must join in the battle to protect their marriages from negativity and cynicism.
“He’s always so negative,” a wife sighs. “She is so critical of everything I do,” a husband says. Would you agree that negative, critical, cynical and bitter attitudes destroy joyful companionship? Many marriages suffer unnecessarily under the strain of these destructive attitudes.
I know we can all have our “down moments” where all things seem to be against us. And, when I do, I thank God for an encouraging mate to help lift me and help sort things out. I also know discouragement can grip us for seasons of life.
But, surrender to cynicism, negativity and bitterness must never be an on-going choice for those who know God and are known by God. Return to God’s grace. Meditate on it! Live in it! “See to it that no one misses (fails to grasp) the grace of God…” (Hebrews 12:15). “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). “Approach God’s throne of grace with confidence…to find grace to help you in your time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
“Trust Him at all times, O people, pour out your hearts to Him for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8; see also I Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:6-7).
Cynicism grows on naïve expectations:
Now, applying this to marriage, here’s another side to consider–Keyes raises the following question: “Could it be that cynicism also grows out of expectations that were naïve and doomed to disillusionment from the start?”
Then, he quotes social historian, Daniel Boorstin who (back in 1962) wrote about “Extravagant Expectations.” His words seem even truer today.
“When we pick up our newspaper at breakfast, we expect—we even demand—that it bring us momentous events since the night before. We turn on the car radio as we drive to work and expect “news” to have occurred since the morning newspaper went to press…We expect our two-week vacation to be romantic, exotic, cheap, and effortless. We expect a faraway atmosphere if we go to a nearby place; and we expect everything to be relaxing, sanitary and Americanized if we go to a faraway place…”
“We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive. We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for “excellence,” to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy.
We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to the “church of our choice” and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God.” “Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.” (pp. 23-24)
Keyes suggests that: “Extravagant expectations…guarantee a disappointment that makes fertile ground for [cynicism] to grow.”
Do we expect more from this fallen world than it can offer? Do we even expect more from marriage than it can offer? Fallenness makes togetherness challenging.) Most couples learn to make adjustments in their expectations. And, if we are adjusting in the right direction, it is always away from self-centered expectations and toward godly and other-centered concerns.
Make a choice:
If the choice is between pessimism, realism and optimism, let’s choose “optimistic realism” based in the one who is, who was and who is to come.