June 2018 archive

responding to evil: cynicism, stoicism, content with “proximate good”

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I grabbed this off the shelf of McKays and recently became very absorbed in it. I didn’t know what the book was about when I grabbed it, but it addresses deep questions I’ve had from my experiences of working in birth and missions (and observing politics).

Visions of Vocations: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber

This book is basically about how we respond, as Christians, to evil and injustice that exist in the world.


I won’t restate everything, just two main ideas that really helped me personally.

First, his key idea is about knowing/seeing the world, and still loving it. Why is this hard? Because when we see evil, wrong, injustice, we have two natural reactions:

  1. Cynicism–disillusionment; “this is the way the world is, so stop imagining a world that doesn’t exist;” this is a way of protecting our hearts from being wounded again; **key insight: that in cynicism, we are learning from nature, from life, how we are to live (not learning from God).
  2. Stoicism–apathy; intentional indifference; we can know about evil but not respond; look away from the problems we see.

Both are ways of protecting ourselves from hurt and involvement. God, with all the evil He sees, doesn’t react with cynicism or stoicism. He sees the world the way it is, and He still loves it. And loves mean staying involved in a good way.

The second idea that really helped me was his chapter on “proximate good.” That we need to learn the humility of being content with our efforts not totally “fixing” the wrong. We can’t make things perfect. We have to be content with doing “proximate” good.

In birth, my experiences made me both stoical and cynical, and I was very frustrated that I couldn’t “save” everyone.  So this book gave me some good insights, and not just for birth work, but for all work and how to respond to evil in the world.

overcoming cynicism

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Struggling with cynicism kind of blind-sided me, and I was talking about this the other day and had some more insights that I would like to write out.

I realized I was struggling with cynicism when we’d had our rehab center for a few years. Vitaliy was regularly counseling with these guys, and he’d share bits of their stories and things they’d said.

After a few years of men saying things then doing the opposite, I started to listen to Vitaliy with what I later realized was cynicism. Oh, the guy said such and such. ***Internal snort*** “Riiiight,” I might say. Tone of voice was everything in cynicism.

The Lord convicted me of becoming hard-hearted and cynical. And the statement from the Bible He used to save me and give me a way out was from I Corinthians 13, “Love hopes all things.”

And here’s what I was recently able to put into words: In cynicism, there is no hope. There is no hope for salvation or change. One can be cynical towards others and towards oneself.

He can never change, cynicism says. I can never change, cynicism says.

But it’s really an attack on a foundational pillar of God’s character. Because it’s believing that God can never change him. God can never change me.

Cynicism says, “There is no hope for salvation or change.” Cynicism comes alive because its hope is placed on people, and people will always disappoint.

But the Love of God hopes all things. It’s important to guard that soft, vulnerable place that hopes. That hopes that God can change people and God can change me. 

And this is the key: that hope is not founded upon the words or strivings of men. The hope of God’s love is founded upon the power of God Himself. This is what makes Hope strong.

So, I’ve been erecting and tending the guard around the soft, vulnerable place of hope in my heart by basing that hope on the God of all Hope–the One who has all power and goodness to effect His will on earth.

“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” This is the prayer of hope over the grave of cynicism.