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Why are we so Cynical?

WHY ARE WE SO CYNICAL?

Ps Ronèl Oberholzer

(Some comments and applications on the thoughts expressed In Jenny Allen’s book: Get out of your head)

One of the most observed results from the recent pandemic has been an attitude of cynicism. The Oxford dictionary lists similar words to be the following: scepticism, doubt, distrust, mistrust, doubtfulness and suspicion. Few topics have recently enlisted such intense debate than the concerns surrounding the pandemic itself as well as the covid vaccines. Fears discussed include, amongst others, religious permissibility of the vaccines, long-term health effects, mistrust of governments and conspiracy theories.

However, according to Allen, these fears spring from general personal attitudes of: “If I do not look out for myself, who will?”; “If I am not careful, people will take advantage of me”; “Do not get your hopes up, you are just setting yourself up for a fall”; “Nothing is as good as it seems”; “Never trust what people say”.

Why Are We So Cynical

Cynicism generally arises from personal fears of the future or anger regarding the past. We tend to project bad experiences from the past into our future and fear events that might never occur. These past experiences and thoughts shape our thought patterns and become a way of life, impacting our behaviours and ultimately, our relationships in the present. In essence, we were hurt and therefore took on an attitude of cynicism to protect ourselves. We become critical distrusting and distant, highlighting the Oxford definition of a cynic: “A cynic is someone who distrusts the goodness and positive intent of someone else’s words or actions”. The problem is that this distrust can extend into a distrust of God since these thoughts are, in essence, self-protection to the extreme.

Unfortunately, cynicism erodes our ability to perceive God. At the root of cynicism is the disbelief in God’s ultimate authority and goodness. Cynism says that no one can be trusted and that we are never safe. Unfortunately, we sometimes feel forgotten or deceived by God when incidents like the pandemic hit. Suddenly we wonder how God could have “allowed” our resultant financial crises, job loss or the death of loved ones.  In short, our distrusts results in a feeling of anxiety.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV) is a well-quoted scripture in answer to anxiety:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will repeat it: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’

Of essence is the word “guard “in verse 7. We can choose to guard our hearts by our efforts, and that means being cynical, or we can choose God’s way. The difference is that God’s way leads to peace surpassing all human understanding, and our way leads to anxiety and despair. We do have a choice. God implores us to make the right choice. Deuteronomy 30:11- 18 (NIV) is aptly labelled “The Offer of Life or Death.”

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, walk in obedience to him, and keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will undoubtedly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

We, most probably will never, here on earth, be able to answer all our “why” questions – but we can choose to embrace God’s peace by knowing He has the final say. Do I choose my thoughts and self-protect, or do I let God reign over my thought life? I choose life! What do you prefer?

[1] Allen, Jennie, Get out of your Head, Waterbrook Press, United States, 2020

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