I recently overheard a man telling his friend that it didn't matter which presidential candidate he voted for in the upcoming election. He asserted that all politicians are crooked, ruthless schemers who may seem different on the surface but, despite such appearances, are really the same beneath their slick exterior - calculating power-mongers who want to advance their own agenda.
I measured the man's opinion and found it wanting. Certainly not all politicians are corrupt and self-serving. Some have genuine motives. If even one ethical, dedicated elected official could be brought as evidence before this cynic perhaps his opinion could be overturned.
What caused this man to become so cynical? I wondered about the sources and effects of such cynicism on us, how our lives are changed individually and collectively by the presence, even pervasion, of such hopelessness in our society.
Maybe these skeptics were actively involved at some point, attempted to affect change, alter the shape of policy or the course of events and just got burned out. Having given much of themselves, they became frustrated, discouraged, even bitter. People without hope stop trying. They withdraw from commitment to the perceived safety of apathy. They give up the ship.
I see this today, even among the faithful, those who have openly declared dependence upon and service to Christ. Sadly, many believers today make the crucial mistake of buying into the idea that the principal challenge of their faith-walk is the cultural struggle between belief and secularism - between the sacred and the profane.
They further mistakenly reduce this premise into a more simplistic, easier to swallow capsule called the "church versus the world," ... then ultimately, and most errantly, "us versus them." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Believers are commanded to love the world, to make disciples of all nations, not sit in skeptical judgment. If Father God didn't love those lost in their sin, anger, rebellion, and rejection of Him, why would He have sent His Son to redeem us? Yes, an individual Christian must be wary of the ways of the world - recognizing that we are in the world but not of it. However, to put the people of the world on God's blacklist is "anti-evangelism," driving the hungry from the table.
In fact, the principal challenge of our time isn't the "culture war" between Jesus-followers and everyone else. It is making and sticking to the affirmative decision that hope overcomes cynicism. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that when hope is deferred the heart becomes sick.
Hope is a buoy for the spirit. When hope is absent, the spirit sinks, even drowns. The proverb goes on to encourage us by declaring, "but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life." Remember that Father placed the tree of life in the Garden as an absolute good.
Jesus-followers are not called to be cynics - overly critical and distrusting of everything and everyone. Nor are we called to be naïve - unwise in the lower (carnal) ways of men. Jesus, knowing our wickedness and despite it, came to bring the "hope of salvation" to us.
Like Jesus we are called to be people of faith, hope, and love. But what if you are in the midst of a lack-of-hope crisis? What do you do? The Apostle Paul wrote, "And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13). It is no accident that "these three" are in the order they are - faith, hope, and love. The source of faith is hope (Heb. 11:1). The source of hope is love (1 Cor. 13:7). The source of love is God (1 John 4:7-8).
Hope deferred certainly does make the heart sick. But when hope is restored - and we decide to push away cynicism - hope becomes a fruitful tree of life to our spirit. When you come into contact with the depth of His love, it will restore your hope. Your choice.
Mark Everett is senior pastor of RealLife Church in Juneau (www.reallifefoursquare.org).