Question: "What does the Bible say about cynicism?"
Answer: A cynic is someone who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest and that, as a result, no one can be trusted. Cynicism shows contempt for human nature in general and displays a large measure of distrust. Because cynical people are full of disdain for their fellow man, Christians should not be known as cynics.
The Bible has examples of people being cynical. Job struggled with pessimism in the days of his torment, cursing the day of his birth (Job 3). Jonah showed a cynical attitude toward Nineveh in his belief that the Assyrians did not deserve God’s forgiveness (Jonah 4). When Philip went to his friend Nathanael to bring him to Jesus, Philip said, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.” (John 1:45). Nathanael’s response drips with cynicism: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (verse 46). After Nathanael met Jesus for himself, his cynicism melted away, and he became one of Jesus’ first disciples.
In the time of Jeremiah the prophet, God’s judgment fell on the nation of Judah for their wickedness and idolatry. As part of God’s indictment of the Judeans, He speaks words that could be read as cynical:
“Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me” (Jeremiah 9:4–6).
Of course, God is not advocating cynicism among the righteous; rather, He is revealing how the nation, in its pursuit of lawlessness, had abandoned all truth whatsoever.
Cynics are, by definition, pessimistic about life. Since, in the cynic’s view, altruism does not exist and no one acts out of good motives, no promises will ever be upheld. Those who are foolish enough to trust someone are destined to be victimized. The Bible does not teach such pessimism. Love “always trusts, always hopes” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Cynical people are fault-finders. They readily see the negative qualities of a person, thing, or idea and are quick to point them out. Some Christians can fall into the trap of cynicism and disguise it as being “spiritual” or “discerning,” as they criticize certain Christian musicians, mock certain Christian clichés, or disparage certain Christian denominations. The Bible warns us against criticizing fellow believers: “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13).
Cynical people tend to be sarcastic. Their humor is biting and often caustic. Sarcasm rarely, if ever, serves God’s purposes. “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). Cynical speech is often a symptom of disillusionment and bitterness in the heart, and Scripture warns us against such poison: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
The primary basis for cynicism is a lack of love. Pride and a lack of self-awareness also play a part, as a cynic places his opinion of the world on the highest pedestal. For example, a cynic may blame the fact that he doesn’t have a girlfriend on the immaturity of all the girls in his acquaintance, rather than examine his own faults.
Cynicism is a product our fallen nature, not the fruit of the Spirit. We are sinners, and, when we’re walking in the flesh, it’s easy for us to adopt a cynical attitude in response to suffering or disappointment. God has better plans for us, though. He wants to heal us and rid our lives of cynicism.
If cynicism has taken an active role in your life, then it’s time to seek God’s healing. Prayer is key. “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 17:6). The Lord wants to hear your cries for help, and He desires to redeem cynics.
“Have mercy on me, LORD; heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4). Forgiveness isn’t something a hard-boiled cynic can easily ask for, but it is essential. Forgiveness is the opposite of what Satan wants; he wants to cultivate a cynical nature and continue the sin within.
Ultimately, the key to dealing with cynicism in our lives is Christ Himself. We need Christ in our hearts to remove the anger, dissolve the bitterness, and make us a new creation. The ongoing prayer of the former cynic will be this: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).