How To Create Cynics
Have you ever had times in your life when you feel defeated, confused and discouraged but could not be honest about it because you are afraid others might think less of you, your faith or your God? How often do we coat our speech with God-talk as a way of explaining (though we might not realize it) why we aren't living as victorious a Christian life as we thought we should or as we thought others expect of us? If this describes you, the following article by David Gushee is for you.
This is an area I have struggled with and my experience with other believers confirms that it is a problem prevalent among many Christians. If you have been to a cell group where everyone seem to have "got it right" and hardly anyone is experiencing conflict in their lives, you will know what I mean. After all, didn't pastor teach us to honor God's blessing in our life by talking about them instead of honoring, thereby multiplying, the devil's work by focusing our speech on our problems all the time? The Bible teaches that as children of God, our words carry weight; life and death is in the power of our tongue. So where does honesty and transparency fit in? I am often confused by the seeming contradiction. How can I be honest about my struggles if I can't talk about them? Am I honoring the devil's work if I talk about my struggles with a few trusted friends? At first, it seems like a contradiction but upon further thought, I believe that it meant we must not shrink from admitting that life is not exactly what we hope for now but neither should we focus on it by talking about it all the time (often repeating ourselves) to everyone we meet. If we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to talk about the negatives in our life, we have got our focus wrong.
I hope the following article sheds more light on the issue. Be blessed.
How to Create Cynics
Everybody knows when we're covering up our confusion with God-talk.
by David P. Gushee
Are Christians also human beings? Are we permitted to talk about our lives the way other humans do? Can we admit mistakes, confess uncertainty, and be honest about conflicts? Is it okay not to have an airtight spiritual explanation for everything that happens?
One of the greatest causes of cynicism among Christians is the way we lather God-talk over our lives in order to obscure realities we consider too painful to discuss directly.
Consider this example from church life (though such situations are not confined to local churches). A minister is not happy in his place of service. He wonders whether he was right in accepting this call in the first place. He has dealt with painful personality conflicts, constant power struggles, and criticism. Now he is leaving. He is leaving because he can't take it anymore. His future is most uncertain.
But he believes that he can't say any of these things. There is an unwritten Code in the church (and not just this church) that dictates how a minister says goodbye. So he says, "God spoke to me and is leading me to a different place of service at this time. I appreciate the opportunity to be your pastor. I now must move on to wherever God leads me next."
Everybody on the inside of the situation knows what these words really mean: "I am miserable here. I can't take it any more. At this point, I would rather be unemployed than continue to serve here. I'm not sure exactly where God is in all of this, but in any case, I know that I must move on. I sure wish you would deal with the issues that have led me to this point, but I won't tell you what those are, so I doubt that you will actually deal with them."
A departing pastor does a church no favor by not discussing its dysfunctions. How much better to be candid with the leadership group—perhaps bringing in a third-party consultant—in order to equip them to deal in a more health-giving way with their next pastor.
Seduced by Certainty
There are several reasons most of us don't feel comfortable speaking directly about our confusion. One is that we want greater certainty about life and our decisions than we often feel. We want to be able to say that we are certain God has led us in such and such a direction and now is leading us in another direction. To articulate uncertainty seems to communicate lack of confidence in God.
It might help us to remember that human beings (even Christian ones) are fallible and "see through a glass darkly." Surely there is plenty of biblical evidence of faithful people who misunderstood God's will or did not receive clear direction about every decision. Is it really impossible for us to say, "I think I misunderstood what God was leading me to do"? Or even, "I made a mistake in coming here"?
Perturbed by Conflict
A second reason for the Code is that Christians also dislike telling the truth about conflict. The divisions that open up in our relationships and in our churches embarrass us. We think they should not occur. Perhaps we don't want to shake the faith of younger Christians by admitting that we just could not work out our differences. And so we paper over such conflicts with Code-talk about God leading us somewhere else.
But Paul highlighted his differences with Peter about table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal. 2), and Acts frankly describes the conflict between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15), a conflict that caused them to go their separate ways. Why can't we likewise say that our differences in vision and personality were irreconcilable, and despite hard efforts for unity, we have been unable to achieve it?
Better yet, why not treat organizational conflict the way C. S. Lewis taught us to think about bodily pain—as God's megaphone. If we pay attention to the pain, we can learn what God might truly be saying to a congregation.
That kind of God-talk gives birth to discernment. But when we use God-talk to paper over the truth, we risk taking the name of God in vain. Scripture is clear that God does not appreciate it when we misuse his holy name for our purposes. Hiding behind a veneer of God-talk that everyone knows is just a way of obscuring painful realities invites cynicism about all our words about God.
If we could admit that we are fallen and uncertain and that we don't always know how to interpret every situation, can't always resolve our conflicts, and sometimes simply choose to move in new directions, we could break the power of the Code and end the cynicism we create by misusing words about God.