Because we live in a fallen world, populated by sinners and charlatains, a certain degree of cynicism, skepticism and distrust is healthy, even necessary. Scripture speaks often about discernment -- the ability to see below the surface, uncover agendas, perceive motives. In this sense, cynicism plays a part in discernment and is an important component in a wise, balanced life.
Of course, someone with a propensity toward melancholy (or paranoia, or pessimism), will laud this suggestion. (Cynics love having their naysaying, nitpicky observations confirmed. Public scandal, divorce, fraud and debauchery ensconce the resident cynic further in his smug appraisals.) Perhaps that's why, after I left the ministry, I plunged headlong into the role of full-blown cynic.
It came as a revelation of sorts. I'd been meeting with the associate pastor of a large local church. They were in the thousands and offered to bring me on staff to oversee small groups and train leaders. Yet the conversations with my pastor friend only confirmed growing suspicions about church life. Even in a large, established church, there were concerns about the pastor, questions about methodology and structure, grinding pockets of disunity and discontent, theological differences and listless support. To add to my burdgeoning disillusionment, several weeks later, that associate pastor tendered his resignation.
Maybe my departure from the ministry wasn't that unusual after all. Maybe there WAS a problem with the Church...and those who govern it.
As I mentioned in my intro, there's a difference between being cynical and being a cynic. Scripture seems to imply as much. Perhaps the closest Bible verse -- one that nails it remarkably well -- is Psalm One:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. (Ps. 1:1 KJV)
The Bible often describes this "blessed" state, what it looks like and how to get there. This verse says we're blessed by not doing something -- specifically, three things. Blessed is the man that doesn't...
WALK in the counsel of the ungodly
STAND in the path of sinners
SIT in the seat of the scornful
The downward progression appears intentional. From walking, to standing to sitting. Bible.org provides a wonderful intro to the Psalms and exposition of these verses.
“Sit” is the Hebrew word y`sh~B meaning “to sit, dwell, remain, abide.” It emphasizes a thoroughly settled state or condition—settled down, comfortable, content with the world with its patterns entrenched in our lives...
“In the seat.” “Seat” is the Hebrew word mosh`B. It means: (a) a seat, a place of sitting, or (b) an assembly where many are gathered together to sit and make deals or have close associations. The point is, when you sit in someone’s seat, according to the idiom, you act like or become what they are. You are viewed as in a confederacy with them.
“Of scoffers.” “Scoffers” is the Hebrew word l’s. It means “to mock, deride, ridicule, scoff.” Grammatically, it is a participle of habitual action. It refers to one who is actively engaged in putting down the things of God and His Word. But please note that scoffing can occur by declaration of words or by declaration of a way of life that scorns the moral absolutes of Scripture and its way of life.
Scoffing and cynicism are cousins. The definition, “to mock, deride, ridicule, scoff,” could be interchangeable. However, the Psalmist is not describing an occasional opinion or attitude, but a manner of being, "a thoroughly settled state or condition."
In this sense, people are not born cynics -- they get there by process. The process is different for everyone. In many cases, temperament and predisposition are the springboard of cynicism. Those who naturally possess a sullen, introspective angle on life are, potentially, consumed much easier. Furthermore, our experiences tend to confirm and reinforce the lathering negativity.
Both these factors were at work in me. Not only do I tend to overthink everything and succumb to flights of melancholy, but my experiences in the ministry built a scaffold of bitterness, hostility and scorn.
I was no longer cynical; I had officially become a cynic.