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Cynicism

Question
I am continually struggling with my own, and many of my friends', tendencies towards cynicism. Is there a "Biblical" cynicism to some degree? Does cynicism always conflict with Biblical faith?
Answer
Cynicism generally refers to the belief that all human action is motivated by selfishness. Sometimes in common language we are laxer with the definition and apply it to the belief that all human action is rooted in selfish, insincere, hateful, or otherwise negative motivations. The Bible denies both forms of cynicism as belief systems. The Bible does, however, affirm that much human action is primarily or entirely negatively motivated (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:18; Mark 7:21-23).

Nevertheless, the Bible allows that even evil people may do good things and give good gifts, which assumes at least a modicum of good motivation from a human perspective (e.g. Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13). This does not mean that anything an unbeliever does is actually completely righteous or moral in God's eyes; unbelief taints every action of an unbeliever, stripping it of moral virtue in God's eyes (Rom. 8:5-8).

The Bible also teaches in many places that as Christians we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit empowers and moves us to love and selflessness (e.g. Phil. 1:6; 2:3-4,13; 1 John 3:14ff.; 5:1ff.). Unless love is among our motivations, we are not even saved (1 Cor. 13; 1 John 3:10,14; 4:8,20).

Still, we may say that there is such a thing as "biblical cynicism" if what we mean is that fallen man is hopeless without Christ, and that negative motivations taint all his actions. We may not say that every motivation of fallen man is utterly negative. Genesis 6:5 might seem to contradict this, but that verse is somewhat hyperbolic: even in its context there is the exception of Noah (Gen. 6:8). Another notable exception to Genesis 6:5 would be Jesus. Nevertheless, Genesis 6:5 does indicate the severity of man's depravity. We may not speak of cynicism being biblical, however, if we speak with regard to believers. Rather, the biblical perspective on believers is very hopeful. It trusts that we are indwelt by God, and that he creates good motivations in our hearts (Phil. 2:13).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.