The Prophet and The Cynic

Erik Cooper —  April 25, 2012 — 11 Comments

Some people make me uncomfortable. They say hard things. Offensive things. Their very presence makes me bristle. Raises my blood pressure. Makes me flat out angry.

And it’s good.

They’re called prophets. A term we don’t hear thrown around much in pop culture today (unless they’re referencing some crazy in a sheltered compound with a chalice of red kool-aid and 300 blank-eyed followers). But I believe the prophetic gift is still alive (Ephesians 4:11), and at times the brokenness and deception in our lives will be violently accosted by very difficult truth. Painful truth. Prophetic truth.

The Old Testament prophets were nut jobs. Often outcasts. Recluses. They’d marry prostitutes or walk around naked to visually illustrate the sins of God’s people. Their call was to repent. They weren’t easy to ignore, but they were pretty easy to marginalize.

I undoubtedly face the same impulse when encountering a prophetic voice today. They like to point at things in me that I don’t want you to see. That I really don’t even want to see myself. I prefer to move them to the crazy line and get on with my life.

But there’s another kind of voice that can sound strikingly similar. That also leaves you bristling, irritated, and maybe even a little PO’d (for a whole other reason).

The cynic.

Haters. Full of self-righteous condescension, a sharp tongue, caustic wit, and an uncanny ability to make you feel like a pile of dog crap. And here’s the difficult thing about The Prophet and The Cynic

…sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between the two.

I’m a pastor, so I live and breathe in “church world.” Admittedly, this can become it’s own subculture of competing philosophies and debate. The tension between prophet and cynic is one I wrestle with every day (at times even in my own soul).

The Western Church could use a good kick in the pants. A cold bucket of wake-up reality check. We’ve bought into some idolatrous (and perhaps even dangerous) lies. At times, we’ve even misrepresented the Gospel. We need the prophetic voices to radically and urgently point us back towards the truth.

But some of you so-called prophets need a gut-check of your own. You’re not oracles, you’re just haters – finding visceral satisfaction in expressing your animosity towards things that may have hurt you, that make you envious, or that simply don’t line up with your own personal preferences.

You’re just negative people. Nothing’s good enough for you – ever right or worthy of celebrating. When you’re not bashing mega-churches, worship styles, church structures, or the latest comment made by some well-known spiritual leader, you’re angst turns towards the idiot repairman, the forgetful waitress, your overbearing boss, or the ridiculous common area mowing schedule of your neighborhood association.

You’re not a prophet, you’re just a whiner with verbal acumen. Having a condescending opinion might make you a great ESPN analyst, but it doesn’t qualify you as the voice of God.

How do we know the difference? I fear mistaking prophetic words for the ramblings of a cynic. But I also fear gravitating towards the emotional woo of a hater assuming I’m hearing from God. So here’s a simple thought:

The prophet is motivated by redemption.

The cynic just wants to feel right.

What do you think? How do we discern between the two?

11 responses to The Prophet and The Cynic

  1. Really thoughtful article Eric. Would love to get this in front of more people. I’d like to hear more about discerning the difference sometime (prophet/cynic).

  2. My first thought (How do you tell the difference between the two) is that a cynic is in it for pride, to elevate self. Where as a prophet “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor 14:3). Knowing this, I also believe there are occasions where God will “call one one the carpet” by what one has heard, (whether by preaching, reading the Word, a song of worship or a prophetic voice)… The end result should bringing one closer to the Lord,..eventually…. even if/when “something” has to be “torn down” so that something new might look more like Jesus when it is built up again.

  3. Chris Thornsberry April 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I think you’re right. Many who say they have a prophetic word are actually being cynical. I’ve always imagined and thought that when the gifts of God are used correctly that they always return people back to Him and give Him glory. If they don’t, I question the validity of not only the gift, but the one claiming to possess this gift.
    I think the hardest part for the prophet is knowing when to speak and when to keep your mouth shut. It would be wise for anyone with the prophetic gift to purchase a $1 notebook and Bic pen to keep handy to write things down. Not everything should be shared.

  4. Hmmm….? I wonder if there’s a such thing as an unhealed, unforgiving prophet; one who does indeed utter the voice of God, but via a FLESHLY, broken filter of cynicism, defensiveness, unforgiveness, and layers of unhealed hurt; one who makes rants and engages in verbal slander toward the very religious institutions who have INDEED outcast, ostracized, marginalized, and labeled him/her “crazy”?????? Perhaps his/her conviction IS in fact redemption, restoration, and sanctification, but for whatever reason or another, he/she is yet in need of more of God’s and his body’s healing grace so that he/she can extend more of it to others? Either way, I’m glad that in the year 2012 SOMEBODY still recognizes what is, when healthy, a good gift to the Church: the prophet. 😉

    Yours Truly,

    Prophetess BeingMadeWhole

    • Hey Princess….I think you’re dead on. The gift is subject to the prophet. Like all gifts, we can use them to breathe life or death. Great to “see” you out here. 🙂

  5. Eric, I sincerely enjoy every single post I read of yours. You are among my very favorite writers. I wish we lived closer. I’d love to take you to lunch. You’d talk – I’d listen… with great joy.

    • Man, thanks Chance….means so much to me. I know we’re 300 miles away, but that lunch thing could still be worked out. I think I owe you for singing at my wedding reception (17 years ago)! Your weekly posts are one of my favorites.

  6. Princess, great thought! I think that is a common problem with many, if not all, of the spiritual gifts God allows us to operate in. Just like when we first become Christians, we are clumsy with our new lives…well, I know I have certainly been clumsy when operating within a spiritual gift (totally fouling it up more than once!)…thankfully God didn’t give up on me, and continues refine & teach me what exactly my role is when He occasionally calls me to use them now & again. I still feel very awkward 98% of the time when operating within a spiritual gift, but I guess that’s the key…to rely on Him and not on my own ability to wield them (because as I’ve learned the hard way, that’s when I always screw it up). I’m usually left standing with my mouth gaping wide open when I’ve handled it properly. 🙂

  7. Amen and thanks for this post. This subject has been driving me NUTSO lately. No wonder so many people who don’t know Christ find Christians so hard to be around.

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