Can cynicism be biblical? Well, maybe. “Since disillusionment is illumination — the (often painful) dispersal of illusion — cynics have much to offer the church if they can do so in love and in the direction of hope and praise.” So Andrew Byers, in his very fine new book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint. Andrew claims “cyncism is a sickness” and defines it as being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. Perhaps no one was more tempted to cynicism than Israel’s prophets. Why? Because it was their calling to expose the underbelly of Israel, and living in the underbelly creates cynicism. But what can we learn from them?
In an expression, Byers says we learn to have “prophetic anguish” instead of dwelling in “cynical anger.” And there is the difference between the persons who can offer little more than deconstruction with very little, if any, offer of construction.
If both prophets and cynics are called to expose, what are the major differences between the two? What for you tips you off that “so and so is a cynic” while someone else is the “prophet”?
From the prophet we learn that sin must be confronted; that irresponsibility must be faced; dissent needs to be heard. The difference between the prophet and the cynic is not in the analysis of sin but in the intent of the analysis. Disgust with an institution is not the same as love for a community. Prophets cry out for God for the good of the people; better yet, God cries through the prophet to the people. Is Jonah the cynic? The cynic knows what he or she is against, but not enough of what he or she is for.
The prophet is engaged; the cynic distant. The prophet shows sympathy; the cynic apathy. The prophet is tortured; the cynic torturing. The prophet is in anguish; the cynic just plain angry. The cynic is a fallen prophet.
A sign of the prophet, vs. the cynic, is seeing good in the people when it is present; the prophet has hope and love while the cynic yearns for more opportunities to critique and upbraid.