A friend once gave me a great piece of advice: lose your naivete, but don’t become cynical. And this guy knew what he was talking about. He was a member of Ted Haggard’s New Life staff when the bottom dropped out, when the image of this seemingly unshakable leader disintegrated into tabloid gossip and endless material for late-night TV monologues (my friend is still on staff at New Life by the way, and this amazing community of believers has rebounded with the kind of grace and strength only God can provide).
I’ve been trying to heed this advice. Naive was definitely a good descriptor for me. I grew up in the American, Evangelical church-bubble and blindly trusted all its assertions, philosophies, and leaders with little or no questions. In many ways, I had allowed my understanding of God and His Kingdom to be completely shaped by this sub-culture, assuming everyone had God’s and my best interest in mind. It was all I knew. I was naive.
“The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.” -Proverbs 14:15 (MSG)
But as I began to develop my own relationship with Christ and not just Midwestern church culture, His personal revelations began to unfold a bigger Kingdom understanding. I began to change (and hopefully still am changing) from the inside out as my connection to God Himself began to overtake my cultural assumptions of who He is and what His Kingdom is all about. That beautiful revelation is God’s deepest desire for all of us, but it comes with a warning label for our broken, human tendencies.
Awakening from a slumbering naivete brings new awareness to before-unseen truth dancing all around you. At times, it seems almost too much to digest. But unchecked, it’s so easy – even impulsive, to swing the pendulum from enlightenment to disdain, from healthy questioning to caustic hatred, from God-centered revelation to man-centered distrust.
Cynicism is not an end result of God’s revelation. But I see the tendency to overshoot the mark in myself and many others who are sincerely trying to re-think church. Challenging assumptions is healthy and wise. Defining the whole by its abuses is foolish and destructive. It’s the definition of cynicism. And while disdain for the status quo can be the catalyst to release needed passion, cynics tend to only point out what’s wrong instead of endeavoring to create what’s right.
“Cynics look high and low for wisdom – and never find it…” -Proverbs 14:6 (MSG)
So what about you? Are you naive? Do you really have a revelatory relationship with the God of the universe, or just this thing we call the church and its American cultural expression? Do you challenge assumptions? Do you pursue the hard answers? Do you intimately know the heart of God, or do you just settle for easy explanations and happy sound bytes that fit your cultural assumptions and who you need God to be inside your sheltered worldview? (Wow, that’s a mouthful).
Or have you attempted to treat that naivete by becoming an obnoxious cynic, defining everything by its worst perversion, assuming everything and everyone has an ulterior motive or self-centered ambition? You’re not doing the Kingdom of God any favors either. Take my friend’s advice:
“Lose your naivete, but don’t become a cynic.”
The authentic Kingdom of God is found in that tension.