Escaping the prison of Cynicism
Hope Arising! The optimism of hope is about to spring from a fresh generation of fathers and mothers. The incomprehensible blessing they will be to the earth is beyond our ability to calculate. But how will we know them? While many attributes distinguish gifted young men and women from their more mature counterparts, hope and the absence of malignant cynicism is central. Many are emerging from the wilderness of cynicism to take their place in the Kingdom of God.
Cynicism and Hope
Caustic cynicism is a destructive and isolating force which will deter us from this destiny. At the core of cynicism is hopelessness. Hopelessness becomes directed toward others, suspecting all are motivated by nothing more than self-interest. It cannot but spawn divisiveness as it gives life to a wave of mistrusting tribalism. Paralyzing pessimism paints wide swaths of the church as unwilling to change and incorrigibly corrupt.
Detachment and withdrawal follow as disillusionment deepens.
In juxtaposition our Father is defined by vision and hope. He not only cheers as we move forward, He actively celebrates our victories, even though they may be as yet unseen! Assuredly expecting we will transcend every obstacle is His natural bent. He is gloriously, painfully optimistic, unwilling to add a weight of unbelief to our shoulders but is instead a continuous wind at our backs. He is the love that believes all things! Consequently He is the polar opposite of the war-weary pessimist.
As a new believer I sadly discovered that the ‘war-weary pessimist’ was all too common however, repulsed by their skeptical view of the immature I determined to never become like them. Little did I realize it was a far more formidable challenge than I could have imagined.
Our tendency to become disillusioned cannot be casually dismissed. Even the Apostle Paul realized this, declaring with a tone of disappointment, “all seek their own and not the things which are of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:21). Maintaining our hope can be challenging. Like a general going to war who finds his troops to be wounded, weak and untrained, mustering hope is not easy once you have the complete picture. Optimism is only easy if you have not actually been confronted with the reality of an ill-prepared army.
The point is this: God is intimately acquainted with the army and is nevertheless fully assured of what He can do through them. He is looking to replicate fathers who share that confidence.
The Test of Cynicism
The journey is however, extremely taxing. The uphill climb begins as we start to become aware of the extent of humanity’s corruption. The greatest obstacle comes when we see these same deficiencies in those we presumed to be selfless. I am, of course, referring to leaders and anointed ministers. This is when the hurdles start to become significant. One of my own rose up as I faced a global leader under the dark shadow of cynicism.
I met him for lunch with the intention of inviting him to speak at a conference but the meeting was more than a little flat. I struggled to connect through a rather awkward interchange, which left me confused. For whatever reason this brother had already decided I was a waste of time. Unfortunately I also lacked the wisdom to know how to circumvent his unresponsive heart. Navigating through his disapproval was overwhelming and the harder I tried the more my efforts came across as desperate self-promotion. Equally tragic was my own knee jerk reaction to judge him for stumbling in a trial I myself had yet to pass.
Today I expect he transcended his moment of testing. I cannot know for sure, though the spirit of hope within me compels me to believe the best. Regardless, both the reality of this challenge and the prospect of thousands of young mothers and fathers lunging past this hurdle, lies before us. I see many on the cusp of victory ready to break through cynicism into a broad place of boundless hope!
The Wilderness of Cynicism
Now at first glance, cynicism may not appear to be an important issue. I can say with surety it is critical. One has only to parent children to discover just how wearying the constant bickering and divisive competition can be. Making our way through is like navigating a wilderness of cynicism. The seemingly endless struggle for peace between siblings can tax every ounce of hope within us.
And so this is the test: Can we remain hopefully optimistic while being fully aware of the extent to which competitive ambition drives mankind? Once we realize the degree to which self-interest thrives in the church, the hopelessness we experience can seem inescapable. But this is where the men are separated from the boys!
The first key to passing this test is remembering the Holy Spirit is not unaware. God has always understood the problem and still holds to the promise of something better. Cynicism is overcome not by ignoring the problem but believing the solution is better.
Thus God does not hesitate to broadcast the problem.
The scriptures are filled with dramatic tales of sibling rivalry. Envy, betrayal and deception are everywhere, to the point that even the descendants of the patriarchs are infected. It surfaces in the life of David, Joseph and even in Jesus’ tale of the prodigal.
In the story of the prodigal son we see an elder brother gripped with resentment. While there is no question the younger brother acted selfishly, the father is willing to restore the relationship. Though fully informed as to the cost of this selfishness, he never loses hope and receives his wayward son with opens arms. The elder brother clings to his concerns about his property and inheritance, refusing to embrace his sibling while wishing for the permanent loss of his status as a son!
Therein is the difference between fathers and brothers. Fathers possess an implacable faith siblings cannot even understand. It is not blind or naive trust, but a confidence forged in the fire of their own trials, tests and promotions. A true father is gripped by optimism, even willing to suffer loss knowing all things are possible. Hope creates a vision for the future.
The Fruit of Immaturity
The story of Joseph illustrates classic blinding rivalry and the resulting poisonous loathing. Envy in the hearts of his brothers eventually leaves Joseph teetering on the precipice of death and life, leading to his imprisonment and slavery. The source of their envy was perceived favoritism. Yet for his part Joseph had done no particular wrong outside of being very careful to honor his father and dreaming particularly big dreams.
David also has his potential dismissed by the prophet Samuel, as well as his father and brothers. But it gets worse. When he was sent to deliver gifts to his brothers he ran headlong into rabid cynicism. While innocently questioning the standoff with the Philistines, he is maliciously accosted by the eldest brother. His vision and faith are misinterpreted simply because he is perplexed by the passive stance of Israel’s warriors. His courage is seen as insolence and is quickly brought into question.
What we see is just another brand of contempt.
“Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”
Eliab accuses his young brother of pride and insolence. Perhaps family history played a part here. No doubt, like most children David was guilty of living in some fantasies; perhaps even make-believe visions of being a great warrior. To the elder brother nothing has changed and now this dreamer with no military experience is jeopardizing all Israel.
Cynicism is blinding, unable to see the difference between an empty boast and true faith. This is where fathers emerge as different from brothers. Fathers see a future where sons have grown past the limitations of their previous selves! They live with the expectation children will transcend their childish delusions and lay hold of purposes far exceeding their own. In short they believe anything is possible!
The Faith of Fathers
While fathers can envision children deviating from the restrictions of birth order, elder siblings prefer a system where their seniority is permanent. They loathe the idea of a future where the once sniveling toddler excels beyond them. Cynicism is the natural posture in those that refuse to believe others can and will be better.
The defensive scorn seen in Eliab is a version of classic cynicism typical in families. It is something only true fathers can challenge. Blinded by their own limitations, elder brothers cannot fathom a world where the younger could do what they could not. Least of all puny sheepherding infants barely beyond puberty. The worst part is that many never outgrow this type of inherent pessimism. Age is no assurance of maturity!
Abundance of years cannot guarantee we will ever escape the insecurity of youth. Grown men can be as competitive and insecure as teenagers, which is why we purposely distinguish between fathers and true fathers. We may be able to spawn offspring and yet never truly become a father. True fathers exist not because adults have children, but because they have overcome the competitiveness of immaturity. Fathers have overcome the negativity inherent to cynicism, such that their hearts have turned to fully support the next generation.
As such, the prophetic promise found in the spirit of Elijah is extremely important. It outlines the magnitude of blessing which will arise when fathers escape cynicism and begin to believe in the potential of children.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
The promise points to a capacity; an ability to be invested with hope toward the next generation. This is the nature of true fathers!
Hope Arising Releases Blessing
When the hearts of fathers turn toward the children and they towards the fathers, an entirely new dynamic will emerge. The magnitude of what will transpire is so significant it is difficult to track. But at the heart of this shift comes a value system restoring honor. Malignant cynicism will be removed from the equation as spiritual mothers and fathers begin to see the promise and dynamic potential in the next generation. In turn the hearts of children will honour the generation that is passing them the baton of faith. An explosion of grace will follow!