cynicism

Why Do We Bother?

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Optical illusions are fascinating. From the illusionary designs of MC Escher to those squiggly line prints with some hidden image. Illusions can also be frustrating. You look and look and look, but just can't figure it out.

How about the classic lost in the desert movie? Someone with tattered clothing and dying of thirst crawls through the sand towards a mirage thinking it's water. Of course, it's only heat waves that appear as rippling water.

The endless cycle of everyday life can seem illusory. As if, no hope exists of any break or improvement in the monotony of the mundane. That's when we need to see beyond the illusion.

Scripture

There is a tragedy that I have seen under the sun. It is a terrible one for mortals. God gives one person riches, wealth, and honor so that he doesn’t lack anything he wants. Yet, God doesn’t give him the power to enjoy any of them. Instead, a stranger enjoys them. This is pointless and is a painful tragedy. [vss 1-2]

Suppose a rich person wasn’t satisfied with good things [while he was alive] and didn’t even get an honorable burial [after he died]. Suppose he had a hundred children and lived for many years. No matter how long he would have lived, it [still] would have been better for him to have been born dead. A stillborn baby arrives in a pointless birth and goes out into the darkness. The darkness then hides its name. Though it has never seen the sun or known anything, the baby finds more rest than the rich person. Even if the rich person lives two thousand years without experiencing anything good—don’t we all go to the same place? [vss 3-6]

Everything that people work so hard for goes into their mouths, but their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage does a wise person have over a fool? What advantage does a poor person have in knowing how to face life? It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind. [vss 7-9]

Whatever has happened [in the past] already has a name. Mortals are already known for what they are. Mortals cannot argue with the one who is stronger than they. The more words there are, the more pointless they become. What advantage do mortals gain from this? Who knows what may be good for mortals while they are alive, during the brief, pointless days they live? Mortals pass by like a shadow. Who will tell them about their future under the sun? [vss 10-12]

(Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 6]

Key phrase— Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want

[bctt tweet="Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is seen and lamented upon as a tragedy?

What common pursuit seems to elude people living on the earth?

What seems to be like "trying to catch the wind"? Why do you think this expression is used so often in Ecclesiastes?

In all that's said about "pointless" talk, who do you think is stronger than us "mortals"?

Reflection...

One of the difficulties in reading through Ecclesiastes is how it reinforces a sense of hopelessness to life. Many people throughout the world struggle with hopelessness. Some take their own lives because they lack hope.

Yet, throughout refugee camps and impoverished or oppressed areas people can be found who hang tenaciously on a hope that things will get better. These are people who have little to nothing to hold in their hands, and who don't know if they will eat much in a given day.

It is often affluent people who struggle most with depression and suicidal thoughts. Why?

Every person wants meaning in life, even those most cynical among us. We need hope more than things. We want significance in life rather than fame and fortune.

When we find ourselves lost in the illusion of hopelessness, it's time to look to the One above it all—God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What one thing seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness in your life?

How do you cope with the routine of life? Do you like it or struggle with it?

What are ways you find solace and hope within the mundane routines in life?

How do you see beyond hopelessness and cynicism, or are you able to do so?

What's the Point?

Photo credit: lightstock.com
Photo credit: lightstock.com

Cynicism is easy to cultivate. It's a defiant mindset somewhat like a self-preservation tactic. It's not hopelessness, but a sense that life is pointless. That's my take on it.

I'm prone to become cynical until I realize where it leads me. Personally, I see cynicism as an attitude of pride—I know better than others, but I don't care. Perhaps I'm overstating it, but that's how I see it.

Nihilist philosophy is like cerebral cynicism. Its answer to the question of the meaning of life is another question, "What's the point?" This may seem like an oversimplification, but this is the tone of Ecclesiastes—King Solomon's philosophical lament. But hold on! Some valuable insights can be drawn from this apparently cynical observation of life.

Scripture

Neither the wise person nor the fool will be remembered for long, since both will be forgotten in the days to come. Both the wise person and the fool will die. So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. [It was like] trying to catch the wind. I came to hate everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun, because I will have to leave it to the person who replaces me. Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? He will still have control over everything under the sun for which I worked so hard and used my wisdom. Even this is pointless. [vss 16-19]

Then I fell into despair over everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun. Here is someone who had worked hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill. Yet, he must turn over his estate to someone else, who didn’t work for it. Even this is pointless and a terrible tragedy. What do people get from all of their hard work and struggles under the sun? Their entire life is filled with pain, and their work is unbearable. Even at night their minds don’t rest. Even this is pointless. [vss 20-23]

There is nothing better for people to do than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. I saw that even this comes from the hand of God. Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to anyone who pleases him. But to the person who continues to sin, he gives the job of gathering and collecting [wealth]. The sinner must turn his wealth over to the person who pleases God. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind. [vss 24-26]

(Ecclesiastes 2:16-26 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 2]

Key phrase— Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?

[bctt tweet="Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?"]

Digging Deeper...

What is the life situation that causes King Solomon to view life as pointless?

Why does he come to this conclusion, and how does this effect his outlook on life?

What conclusion does all of this thinking bring Solomon to realize?

How does this realization bring a better perspective and value to life?

Reflection...

The problem of cynicism is what it leads to—a dead end. Why? Because pride—self-exaltation—leads us into an isolated and introspective mindset. In other words, we can't see beyond our self.

Every human being—all life on earth—has a time-limited life span. Even the time we think we have can be cut short. So, if our whole world revolves around ourself as the central most important thing in the world, then life can appear pointless.

Solomon's realization of what brings satisfaction—the existence and presence of God—changed his view of life. It brought him to view life from a different perspective. He saw a continuity to life beyond himself.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What are the things that cause you to lose sight of the value of life?

What (or who) is most important in your life? Does it help you see beyond yourself, or make you more self-focused?

How does acknowledging God's existence help you have a better outlook on life?

What are specific ways you can view life beyond yourself?