The uncomfortable fact is: It's difficult reconciling Christian virtue with jaded negativity.
The Book of Ecclesiatstes is the closest thing we have in Scripture to sanctified cynicism. It's considered part of the Poetical Books and grouped along with Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Lamentations. Ecclesiastes puts a notoriously dark spin on things. Perhaps the best example (and one every cynic should take wicked delight in) occurs early on in the book:
I saw the tears of the oppressed -- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors -- and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. (Eccl. 4:1-3 NIV)
Yikes! That's some grim stuff. The dead are happier than the living? Better off that we'd never been born? Sheesh! This type of talk is liable to land someone in therapy. Either that or launch a career into goth music stardom.
The word "meaningless" occurs over thirty times in Ecclesiastes. In fact, the author cuts right to the chase in chapter 1:
'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' (vs. 2)
And he maintains this existential rant throughout the book, pummeling the reader:
Wisdom is meaningless -- 1:12-18
Pleasure is meaningless -- 2:1-11
Hard work is meaningless -- 2:17-26
Wealth is meaningless -- 5:8-6:12
Youth and vigor are meaningless -- 11:7-10
Pass the Prozac. The Teacher has surely lost his marbles. Nevertheless, this is God's Word!
So does Scripture validate, even endorse, jaded negativity?
A general rule of hermeneutics is context. Solomon is generally believed to have written Ecclesiastes. At one time, Solomon was considered the wisest man on earth, having amassed untold wealth, power and fame. Nevertheless, he took unto himself pagan wives, embraced their idolatries, surrendered to sensual pleasure and materialism and, in the end, succumbed to despair and disillusionment. According to Jewish tradition, Solomon wrote Song of Songs during his youth, Proverbs in his middle years and Ecclesiastes during the latter years of his life. The book, more than likely, chronicles the disenchantment and futility of his departure from God.
Another interesting note about Ecclesiastes is its summation:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (12:13-14)
So after twelve chapters lamenting the meaninglessness of life, Solomon returns to his roots -- to sanity. When all is said and done -- the injustice, foolishness, oppression, laughter, labor and death -- we should fear God and keep His commandments.
As much as I'd like to use Ecclesiastes to support some type of sanctified cynicism, I cannot. For one thing, it won't allow it. For another, there's verses like Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, 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. (NIV)
Does this mean I can't think about crime and poverty and wolves in sheeps clothing? Does this mean I can't cry out when the righteous suffer, when the unborn are slaughtered and when the wealthy strongarm the weak? Does this mean my heart can't break for ministers who are being eaten alive by their churches? No. It just means I can't stay there.
Philippians 4:8 (and many like it) is a pebble in the sandal of the jaded negativist. For amidst all the cynical fodder, there is goodness and beauty and hope. On these we are called to think. And so, for those of us prone to pessimism, a collision is inevitable...