Thursday, March 10, 2016

A friend struggles with being cynical. What can we tell him?

Matthew 5

Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (ESV)

I have a friend who is struggling right now with liking people at all.  He sees people make poor and even illogical arguments while thinking that they are better and brighter than others at the time they are making their arguments.  

On facebook, he sees people threaten other people with torture, rape, and murder because they disagree about small matters about small things.  

In politics, it is hard for him to find any voice that reflects character, competence,  and compassion.  He finds himself having to vote against things that should never have been considered.  For him another demonstration of the lack of people acting logically or morally.   

He sees the language that not just used by politicians but by everyone in every day life nearly all the time full of "humbug".  

What is "humbug"?  A deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes. (Oxford Dictionary).   From my friend's perspective, everyone is attempting to manipulate everyone all the time. 

My friend has been lied to by people close to him and has those he respected betray family and friends.   

His heart, at the moment, is very cynical but he would see it as being realistic.   He is seeing what the prophet Isaiah saw when he wrote. 

[Isa 59:14-15 NASB] 14 Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands far away; For truth has stumbled in the street, And uprightness cannot enter. 15 Yes, truth is lacking; And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey.Now the LORD saw, And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.

How could my friend find his way out of all of this?   Such a perspective makes it hard to feel good towards people or to risk relationships with them.  How can we love them like Jesus sets as a type of ultimate moral standard?  

My friends vision of people is a dark vision. 

The beginning would be to remember the idea that people have been created in God's image ( Genesis 1:26-28).  Designed to be the best reflectors of the beauty, wisdom, character, competence, and love of God into the rest of the universe.  God made us reflect the Divine Perfection and Person into physical reality.   

This is the true core of our humanity.  When we do this we are most human.  This is the destiny of the redeemed humanity.  This is where we must start when we think about people.   We must keep this central.  This is true of all people at all times.  

To respect a person is to deeply and truly accept them as one created in God's image.  This is something that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.

This was one of the significant beliefs that led to our founders stating in the "Declaration of Independence." 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So, it is vital we begin here.  Humans are to be valued and respected for who God has made them for in respecting and valuing them we show honor to God (James 3:1-10).  

Practical Exercise to make this real.  This was used by Dr. Francis Schaeffer once as he was traveling on the "tube" in London.  

As you look at people in some public place or are about to interact with people in any way say to yourself:

"Here is a person sacred and significant!  Created in the womb by the king of the universe.  This person is part of God's plan.  The Maker of all things honors this person as special and unique.  I should do the same."

Repeating this outlook often will help us renew our spirits and minds to conform to God's outlook on people. 

However, humanity has rebelled.  We have fallen into selfishness, self-righteousness, and sin.  We love darkness more than light.  See more effectiveness in the lie than in the truth.  Trust in sin to win more than in righteousness.   

This is not what humanity is at its core but it is a deep twisting and corrupting cancer that kills, sickens, and pollutes us.   So my friends thought that "everyone" has a problem is universal (Romans 3:11-18)

So does this erase the image of God?

 While some think this is the case it does not seem to fit scripture nor does it explain the noble things done by people all around the globe.  It would seem at times however imperfectly and twisted people still reflect divine goodness into this life.  

An example might be found in the "Righteous Among the Nations" (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם‎, khassidey umot ha-olam "righteous (plural) of the world's nations") is a honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.  Here people reflecting God's compassion and being their brother's guardian can be seen.   

The image of God could be seen in the middle of a very dark and immoral time. 

So my friend would need to see that his observation and experience are expected to be found in one accepting a Christian worldview that admits we now live, "East of Eden".  

This is not paradise anymore, nor is it hell.  Perhaps the best understanding of our current condition is "Purgatory" for in this place we may find the purging of our moral pollution and find our way back to being true and accurate reflections of God.  ( I am using purgatory in a poetic sense and is not endorsing this theological doctrine which I think is not correct).

Practical reality would be to remind ourselves we are "East of Eden" especially when people disappoint us greatly.  Remind ourselves that we are no longer in paradise and, therefore, this life will have tribulations, abuse, and hurt come to us through even those we love.  

All sinners and we are all sinners, hurt those who love them and who they love.  Our deepest wounds will come from those closest to us.  Note that even Messiah Jesus was subject to this truth when betrayed by his friend Judas.  Lowering our expectations will help us feel less anger and anguish when such betrayals come.  

Finally, we must look at the hope of humanity being reborn, renewed, and restored to the intended glory of reflecting God's character, competence, and compassion to the world.   

God's plan was to pay the moral penalty for our rebellion against love and logic.  God the Son would become the Son of God and be a true hero of love who sacrificially would suffer hell fire on the cross to redeem and renew us.   Jesus' resurrection was to give us hope that God would bring the divine kingdom to earth with righteousness ultimately and eternally, win the day. 

Now, the Church was to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth from which we could see this redemption and restoration to righteousness.   It is here we can most struggle, for while there is a good historical argument to be made for Jesus' resurrection it is harder to argue from history that the Church has been effective in being a center for truth or righteousness.  

The Church was to reflect the hope of the world, yet most Chruch history courses would leave us cynical and disappointed.  Most of our own lives in contact with local churches have not inspired our seeing the image of God restored but simply people deceptive lives under the cloak of faith. 

But Paul, who knew only too well the struggles of the Chruch to be a beacon of love and logic, gives us a prophecy of better days ahead.

[Eph 4:11-13 NASB] 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

This challenges us to become part of the solution.  Our failure to consistently have lifestyles are worthy of God's great love shown in Messiah Jesus is one of the main reasons people don't believe Jesus was sent by God.  Our hypocrisy, done in the name of Christ, blinds them to the truth of Christ Jesus. 

Each of us must strive to become Christians that reflect love and logic.  Every church needs to pray to become a community of the King Jesus that is controlled by truth, humility, confession of wrong thinking and living, compassion, and loving care for others.   We are to be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy communities that show that humanity will be transformed.  

We must not expect perfection from the Church or Christians, but we should see a substantial, sincere, and progressive improvement that give us hope for a better world with better people.  

The only reason we are happy in heaven is because we are holy.  Pleasure comes from the environment, but true happiness comes from having a rightly ordered soul.  Virtue is what brings victory over futility. 

So a practical step her would to review Church history and look for the great moments when the truth of the gospel was lived out in words, actions, and attitudes of faith-filled practical love. 

We can also reflect and journal on our personal "church history" which would be to recall the times when the people of God acted to show the love of God into our lives.  

This would seem to be the Apostle Paul's suggestion. 

"[Phl 4:4-8 NASB] 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

So my friend should use prayer as a way to release the sadness, frustration, anger, bitterness, and cynicism that now governs his emotions.  He needs also to make an exhaustive list of all the times he has seen noble things done for the good of others and when people spoke truthfully.  Focusing on the glass half/full would be critical to see reality as it truly exists. 

But to really answer my friend, will take more than words.  Consistent demonstration of the truth of the gospel through a fellowship of people striving to live the gospel is the answer for which the Lord Jesus prayed (John 17:17-23).  

May the Lord help me to be a witness to my friend and everyone else that Jesus is risen, HE is risen, indeed.  

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