There is a massive difference between intellectual cynicism and wisdom. 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. The king maintained political stability and the priest religious stability, while the prophet destabilized when either needed that. What about the sage? Israel’s sages both stabilized and destablized, sometimes with practical wisdom and sometimes with more speculative wisdom (Job, et al).
The cynic likes the knowledge; the cynic likes elitism; the cynic likes to destabilize. But the sage pushes beyond all three because the sage — the wise one — emerges from a fear of the Lord and lives before the Lord. Without worship, the “sage” is nothing but a cynic.How would you compare the pursuit of wisdom with cynicism? Do you think Ecclesiastes is cynical?
The problem in the cynic is the lack of living in the sacred. “The scoffer [read cynic] seeks wisdom in vain” because the cynic seeks it not for wisdom or for worship but to use it against others. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs are principles and not promises; the Book of Job shows that if one reads them as promises the words are shattered into illusions. Job’s friends were stuck in superficial perceptions and Job shatters them. They think God can be controlled; Job says No, God is free.
But is Ecclesiastes, the Qohelet, a cynic? He is at least a vigorous realist and an opponent of idealism. Qohelet is one who discovers, the hard way, a form of hopeful realism. He finds it joy in normal realities and in hope in God. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep God’s commandments. Byers says Qohelet is a grim realist instead of a cynic.