"For all of us, cynicism will destroy us. For those of us who claim to be Christians, cynicism is forbidden." (Jerram Barrs, "The Saturation of Cynicism," in Covenant, Spring 2007)
In a recent article in Covenant Magazine, Jerram Barrs traces the roots of our postmodern pessimism and cynicism --- the scornful, mocking attitude that is the outward expression of a belief that people are unsincere and inevitably will exhibit the worst of human behavior. Barrs traces this deep-seated attitude to five factors: a loss of belief in truth, a loss of hope, a loss of respect for authority, a loss of respect for everything sacred, and a loss of moral certainty. The operative word is "loss." Much has been lost. He goes on to prescribe the antidote: a sober realism (as opposed to a naive optimism) and, in essence, faith, hope and love, particularly love. Our faith gives us an assurance that all will be put to rights, that evil will meet judgment. We hope in salvation, that human hearts and this world will be renewed and changed and not end in tragedy, whether environmental collapse or thermonuclear war or under a terrorist scourge. And finally, love. As Barrs says: "Love is clear-eyed; but love is also full of hope, for it sees the way that Christ's love has already begun to change us. Love is clear-eyed and full of hope even when it means we have to count the cost of disappointment and even betrayal. Only love will arm us against cynicism in all its ugliness and destructive power."
The gravity of human existence this side of Eden draws us downward toward hopelessness and cynicism. It oozes from the ink of the local paper, falls from the sneer of the news commentator, and permeates the narratives of many popular songs. It's believed that artists, once they get a taste of popularity, will inevitably sell-out, go for the money, that is. Politicians, once elected, will serve themselves, not their consituents; and the errant relative will, without doubt, return to their usual selfish behavior. Isn't that the way of it? Isn't that what we are?
I confess I feel the pull of this gravity as much as anyone. I need regular doses of two revelations. First, the narratives of the Bible, the great stories within the one Story, remind me that no matter how bad we become all is not lost. Grace is at work amid the unraveling of Creation. God will redeem a people and a physical reality in His own time. I need the regular reaasurance of that promise.
But secondly, I need the regular beauty of the natural revelation. A walk in the woods, that is. A foray into nature reminds me that there is an incredible and well-ordered Home around us that has great restorative properties, that is able to heal itself and heal us. I guess what I sense in such places is the mark of the Creator, like signposts along the way, promises that all will be made right. Trees will one day be tree-ish in fullness, in a way we cannot now imagine. The red of the male cardinal will be redder and him more cardinal than he is now. No more will we live in shadows, in a place that, relative to the New Creation, is like various shades of gray compared to a panolpy of color. No more will all be bent and ill-formed.
I'm ever falling into cynicism, and God is ever pulling me upright to gaze on the possibilities of Grace, on a longed for New Creation. God will mend every broken thing. And I'll stop falling.