From the beginning of time, skepticism has been the natural inclination of our hearts. Our sin in the Garden highlights the beginning of our doubts. Even the most remarkable truths, like the truth that creation is “good” (Genesis 1), is subject to destruction by the imputation of our preferences over the will of God. We have doubted goodness ever since.
Not only have we doubted, we have disbelieved. In skepticism, we hesitate to agree with declarative statements made by friends and leaders. Yet it doesn’t always stop with simple disagreement. We have somehow found our way into cynicism. It is in our cynicism that we hold so strongly to our preferences and become scoffers of anything that does not build up what we love.
The origins of our cynicism do not begin in isolation, but in communities that forget why they exist. We are inclined to spend time with like-minded friends, and though it is good to dwell in a community that holds similar ideals and opinions, these groups can easily become a breeding ground for an attitude of supremacy. I can give countless testimonies of how this has played itself out in my life, but let me draw you into one way I have been guilty of this. I love good quality coffee and most of the people I spend time with are confessing coffee snobs. Because of this, I have become convinced that coffee is superior to all other warm beverages. In turn, I patronize anyone who thinks differently than me with a “good natured spirit.” Though this is a light-hearted testimony, there are far more serious acts of cynicism that can destroy the ultimate foundation of our love for one another.
To love one another is not to love our shared ideals. Our sinful motivation to receive human acceptance casts a shadow upon a rightly-motivated longing for unity found in Jesus. This universal striving for acceptance and self-elevation plays out in the lives of Millennials more evidently than any other generation. Far too many of our conversations are about why one church is the best in polity, or how a specific kind of music, preaching style, discipleship model, major, leadership training program, or missions agency is superior to all others. All the rest is reserved for scoffing.
Don’t mistake what I am implying. I am not saying that disagreeing about our preferences is wrong. We are shaped by humbling ourselves and then allowing others to challenge our opinions and ideals in a gracious and loving way. The truth is that there is nothing edifying or loving about a disposition of disagreement. Instead of building up the body of Christ, we turn our opinions into law for other believers. The dilution or degradation of another believer’s voice is a painful reminder that we love ourselves much more than we love each other. When we elevate our personal preferences over the truth of the gospel, we are communicating to those who share in the Spirit of God that we care nothing for their thoughts and ultimately do not need them to interfere with our kingdom of right-thinking. Human dignity is demolished in the face of our adherence to our own kingdom. We set up a banner of unity that says something other than “Jesus.” What we desperately need is to adhere to the King.
How can we achieve true unity? Is it possible to have conversations about Calvinism where our motivation is not to win an argument, but instead we are motivated to elevate Jesus and affirm one another? We could look to plenty of moralistic methods for positive thinking and being tolerant. But “morality” did not save the Pharisees, and it will not save us. The solution is a person, not a system.
The only way we can be healed from our negativity towards one another is through Jesus. Christ achieved the perfection we could not achieve and did so with greater humility than we could ever strive to produce. It is in the context of unity among believers that Paul encourages the church to speak in a manner that edifies and gives grace (Ephesians 4). This leaves no room for cynical, scoffing people in the Kingdom.
Is there hope for the one who, like me, tends to speak her opinions without love? Only in Jesus. We must stand under the banner of His Name, not our ideals and preferences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together that, “the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
We can bring the message of salvation to one another. But we can only do this by submitting our hateful tongues and dirty hearts to the Lord. Thankfully, it is not up to us to create unity and speak without cynicism; at our best we will still possess latent sinfulness. We need the grace of God and the power of the Spirit to clear our lives of cynicism and make the way for loving unity that only comes by the work and person of Jesus.