“Vanity of vanities! …All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2
Life can be so hard. As broken people in a broken world we try and navigate between numbing naiveté and crushing cynicism. Regarding the latter, it seems so widespread, due in part to our digital age’s ability to bombard our senses with information about celebrities, sports heroes, political figures, governments, and organizations, including churches and spiritual leaders, who have failed us in spectacular ways.
Cynicism is akin to skepticism, but beyond it. It’s a blunt hopelessness derived from many hurts and disappointments. If not guarded against, it will callous over one’s heart, with layer upon layer of doubt, distrust, suspicion, disbelief, pessimism, and negativity, that destroys and makes a person old before their time.
“We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.” - Kenneth Clark
“When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and only then, have you grown old.” - Samuel Ullman
God addressed this pessimistic poison when he queried his people through Ezekiel, “‘Son of man, what is this proverb you have… 'The days go by and every vision comes to nothing’?” (12:22) In other words, the longer they lived the more disillusioned they became that anything good and lasting was ever really going to happen. We know what this is like. Material possessions fail to fill deep longings. Pleasures fall short. Power and influence can lead to the top of nothing in the end, only loneliness. Friends, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, children, pastors and churches, have all failed and disenchanted us in one way or another. When this happens we are devastated and cry with Solomon, “Vanity of vanities! …All is vanity.” Yet, it’s just then that we have to resist the resentment that can lead to bitter cynicism. We need to recall that we too have failed others. We have also been unfaithful and untrustworthy at times.
“Life is not an easy matter... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.” - Leon Trotsky
The ‘great idea’ that raises you and me up, and keeps us from falling hopelessly into a cynical mindset, is to place all our trust in the One who alone will never betray or fail us. God has declared that heaven and earth will pass away before His word and promises can be broken. He sacrificed his own Son, who willingly gave his life for us, to keep his promise. After the way humanity has treated God, however, in rejecting his love and salvation, we might expect him to be cynical. Instead, he offers grace and forgiveness and eternal life to the very people who continually fail him.
This glorious gospel turns decrepit, old cynics, who have withheld grace from others, and scoffed at new visions, into vibrant, youthful hearts that can believe again in a new vision for a new day. Former cynics, who receive and relish God’s grace, also become eager to give grace to those who have been unfaithful and untrustworthy to them. They no longer lament, “Vanity of vanities! …All is vanity,” but rather sing out, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved (and sustains) a wretch like me!”
Thanks for meandering along with me,