Cynicism, Stoicism, and Our Responsibility to the World

public domain

What is my responsibility to the world? A profound question asked by Steven Garber in his fantastic work on faith, vocation, and culture Visions of Vocation. 

In an age bombarded by social media sound bytes and a flood of others media outlets the pain and sorrow of the world are front and center. Hard to ignore. But knowing what we know. The question still remains: what is my responsibility to the world? 

A Western culture built on the autonomous-self, hyper individuality, and the pursuit of freedom and happiness pursued apart from God and neighbor is a tough sell. Responsibility to neighbor is not in high order.

The question, and more aptly, the response to the question of loving our world well, has it’s challenges for sure. A Christian ethic of neighbor-love built on Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) is a call to love to world despite their beliefs. But we are dealing with complexities. 

Steven Garber suggests two big ones often neglected:

Cynicism and Stoicism.

Cynicism is the skeptical heart and mind always looking for a loophole to skirt responsibility. Any reason to not love our neighbor. We deem certain people not worthy of our attention, time, and talents. Cynicism is a posture of distrust rather than entering into the pain we see. 

Stoicism is the detachment of feelings and emotions from the situations and pain we see. Cynicism feeds stoicism and does not allow us to weep for the pain of our lives and the pain of our neighbors. Tears a waste of time. 

These two toxic elixirs are the reason we don’t like the question: what is my responsibility to the world? Cynicism says: I don’t care, indifference. Stoicism says: I don’t want to feel the pain, more indifference. 

So what are the solutions? How do we fight the cynicism and stoicism of the age?

Garber suggests the incarnation of Jesus gives clues. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies in John 11 he weeps at the tomb. The God-Man had entered into the pain of Lazarus and wept for him. Jesus came to enter the pain of the world and give his life for it. Jesus was no cynic knowing people didn’t deserve grace, yet he gave it.

He was no stoic. He wept tears over Lazarus and felt the pain of a people rejecting his Kingship when he cried over Jerusalem. Jesus entered into the pain with presence and tears.

Our God, the living God, the Creator and Redeemer is a cryer. He weeps at the tombs of starving children in Africa, woman who miscarry, and the teenager who took his own life. We are not able to enter into a semblance of empathy and sorrow for our neighbors until we see the God who weeps. Not a distant God who doesn’t care if the world kills themselves. A weeping Savior who enters in and proves his love. By coming to earth and giving his everything, including his life, for a cynical and indifferent people. 

Benjamin Warfield a professor and scholar at Princeton believed the gospels of Jesus are written to a society bathed in stoicism. The coming of Jesus and the incarnation are a counter-argument to stoicism. The God who enters into the pain, sin, and darkness of the world is like no other, and has no rival. 

Tears matter and the world is complex. We need a God to save it and heal us in the process to feel her wounds. Until this happens we will lean into cynicism, stoicism, or something of the sort.  

Jesus fights the cynicism of the heart by entering into our own pain. Showing us mercy and grace and changing our suspicion into service and love. He enters our own pain and heals, saves, and forgives so we can enter the pain of our neighbors. 

How do we love the world? How do we take responsibility and become purveyors of truth, hope, faith, peace, and love? 

We ask the God who weeps to give us eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands to serve. It won’t be easy but it starts with staying close to Jesus.

*Reference: Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber pp. 31-32