Although science was never really my thing in school, one branch of scientific study that I have always found interesting is astronomy, particularly the physics of stars. I remember learning in elementary school that when giant stars much larger than our own sun die, they are prone to collapse into black holes–monstrous objects so dense that nothing can escape their gravity, even light. If that doesn’t give you nightmares, consider that some of these black holes are larger than the orbit of Pluto and power the rotation of entire galaxies. Invisible to the naked eye and warping the very fabric of the universe into shapes incomprehensible, these are known as Supermassive Black Holes. We know now that one lurks silently at the center of our own Milky Way.
Much closer to home, at the center of our own hearts, there may lie a different kind of Supermassive Black Hole–a sin which is insidiously difficult to detect but has the gravity to warp our perception of everything around us and so devour our hope and joy. For me, this is the black hole of cynicism. Defined generally as “an attitude and inclination of distrust or rejection toward a particular idea, person, or group,” cynicism often rests upon the belief that people and societies are driven by selfishness and corruption, rendering present realities meaningless and future hopes unachievable. In short, cynicism amounts to a bottomless pit of emptiness. It is an emotional and intellectual response that defies any perceived evil by embracing nothingness–an apathetic shrug of the soul. Over the past several months, I have been led to the conclusion that my own heart has been slowly numbed by this black sin.
This realization and the conviction the Lord has brought to my heart over it have led me to ask, “What is the root of my cynicism?” My search for answers has led me to three likely causes. First, my cynicism is enabled by fixating on the bad. With news reports of ISIS advancement in the Middle East, conservative bloggers decrying the loss of religious freedom, and a sour job market stalling entry into my career path of choice, I often slide precipitously into pessimism. Proverbially, one could say that the more bad I see, the more bad is all I can see. Second, my cynicism is powered by plain, simple idolatry. If I am honest, I must admit to an attitude of entitlement toward certain things. Stated bluntly, the world owes me. And when it doesn’t pay up, particularly in the time and manner of my choosing, the end results are bitterness and disillusionment. Finally, these two causes contribute to a third engine for the black hole in my heart – the wielding of cynicism as an emotional defense. In essence, if I am constantly unimpressed, expectant of the worst, dismissive of the best, and scornful of any evidence to the contrary, then I can never be hurt, disappointed, or fearful. The cost is that in place of these things, I am simply nothing–blind, deaf, and numb to the world.
In response to these three core components of cynicism, I believe Scripture offers several solutions. The first is to fight against the slide into fixation on everything bad by reminding myself consistently of what is good. Accordingly, the Apostle John reminds us that “greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and elsewhere that it is Christ who has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). Second, I must confront the idol I have crafted out of the comfort and success I feel entitled to. The truth is, I am entitled to nothing but have still been given everything, though this may not be perfectly clear to me at all times. Instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I need to meditate on what I do have–the many blessings God has and will bestow upon me, not the least of which is the life described in Revelation 21 and 22. Lastly, rather than retreating from the world into emotional nothingness, the writer of Proverbs counsels cynical hearts to construct a positive alternative: “A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him” (12:14). I may not be able to fix the entire world, but through the power of Christ I can still work to make my corner a little better.