As I have written earlier, one of the books I am currently working my way through is Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Thus far I am really enjoying the book and find myself sifting through a lot of good gems. I came across one quote last week that got me thinking and I would like to record some of those thoughts in this post!Here’s the quotation,
Idealism says, “Through my work I am going to change things, make a difference, accomplish something new, bring justice to the world.” Cynicism says, “nothing really changes. Don’t get your hopes up. Do what it takes to make a living. Don’t let yourself care too much. Get out of it whatever you can.” (pg. 95)
If you’ve never read Tim Keller before then you might be surprised by his uncanny ability to put things just perfectly! Even the punctuation differences between idealism and cynicism are evident: idealism–commas, cynicism–periods. For those of you who are familiar with Keller’s work this sort of perfectly crafted quotation will come as no surprise.
All that being said, I actually want to move past the effectiveness of Keller’s prose and make a point about what he’s saying.
As a millennial, the swinging pendulum of idealism & cynicism strikes acutely at my experience, especially in the church. Although such a concept is rarely placed in front of people my age (especially as well as Keller puts it) the concepts are marketed to us from pulpits as often as any other topic, particularly idealism in my experience.
From my experience in public schooling which told me I can do whatever I set my heart to from the age of seven to attending Passion conferences that proclaimed my generation as the generation that God had chosen to move in the world, the concept of idealism has been a BIG part of my formative story.
On the other hand, cynicism has a say too! While my generation has been eating You Can Do it Soup since we were all knee high to a grasshopper many of us have now graduated college and have faced the realities of the “real world” (personal finance, marriage, boring jobs, etc) and found cynicism, like Cain’s sin, lurking at every corner and its desire is for us!
In my opinion my generation has not been properly strapped on to this swinging pendulum and have found ourselves either thrown onto the wall of unrealistic idealism, clinging for dear life, or find ourselves slowly sliding down the wall of depressing cynicism.
The problem with this duality is that it is NOT BIBLICAL! Put another way, the problem with this duality is a faulty view of what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God and eschatology.
The problem of this faulty idealism and cynicism that I have been describing is that they are immature and impatient (by laying down this criticism I in no way claim to have overcome immaturity and impatience). The idealist believes that all change must come now, completely, and fully, like a tidal wave of Ferbies crashing down warm and snuggies in the name of Jesus throughout the earth! The cynic believes that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket and therefore just wants to keep their head down and complain about taxes and the rowdy idealists!
Both of these perspectives can never hold up to what the Bible teaches about change happening in the world. In the Bible, whenever God is about to do something big there is almost always a subsequent birth announcement.
In the Garden, when God was explaining the big plans he had for Adam to do he makes a birth announcement by giving him a bride and telling them to get busy.
When was explaining the big plans he had for Abraham he simultaneously gives him a birth announcement.
When God is about to redeem his people out of Egypt he starts telling a story about a Baby.
When God is going to redeem the whole world he quickens the hand of Isaiah to write: “Unto us a child is born”
In other words, the way God wants to work in the world is through a people who aren’t shortsighted and selfish. He wants to test a people, generation, nation, etc to see if their desire to “change the world” runs deep enough to raise the next generation to see it through. The idealist wants it to happen in their generation and when they don’t see it done they turn into a cynic. In doing this God sees that the idealist was not truly excited about bringing fame to God’s name but instead being in the generation that would do so (follow me?).
When Jesus gave his disciples the “Kingdom parables” he told them that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that starts out small but slowly grows into the biggest tree in the garden (Matthew 13:31-32). Likewise he told them that the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven that slowly works its way through a loaf of bread (Luke 13:20-21). The Kingdom of God does not come like lighting, it comes like a seed in the ground, it comes like the seed of the women, a child. A child is promised, conceived, grows, and produces changed slowly but surely.
Many of our misconceptions about how we are to enact change for God in the world come from a faulty view of the trajectory of history in the world. Because of books like Left Behind and poor teaching on the book of Revelation we believe that the fact that Israel became a nation in 1940 is a sign that Jesus is going to return soon! The story of the Bible is much different. The Bible teaches that Jesus’ resurrection in the middle of history began a process of recreation that starts in the hearts of his believers (regeneration) and works itself out into the world like leaven. When Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples of (not in) all nations he was essentially telling them what God told Adam in Genesis 2.
The New Heavens & New Earth have been inaugurated (not yet consummated) in Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus has told us that the reality of this New Heavens & New Earth (The Kingdom of God) will become ever more evident in the same way that the growth of a plant is evident: over time. If you sit down and look at a plant for five hours you won’t see any growth. But if you take it a month at a time then you will see much growth. Likewise, if you sit down after dinner and turn on the evening news to see if Christianity is taking over the world you won’t see it. But, if you look through the history books and see how the faith has gone from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and unto the ends of the Earth it is impossible to deny that the Kingdom is not moving through this world like leaven working through bread.
Food for thought.