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What is that smell?

I recently parted with a huge amount of printed materials, reference books, and the like from my bookshelves. I was paring down to the critical few that I really wanted to keep because I use them from time to time. Most of what I can research today is online, so I even find myself not going to Webster's on the shelf so much, but the dictionary that is online when I need to look up a spelling or find the meaning / origin of the word. I recently had to go back to my trusty dictionary to look up an all too familiar word. I was surprised at the primary definition I discovered, as it really was not my first impression of the word. The word I sought out was "cynic". The primary definition is a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and then disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view. I thought a cynic was a nay-sayer - one who just opposed things because they had a genuinely "sour" disposition in life! I also believed it was possibly a person who just had been "burnt" so many times in life they no longer believed positive or uplifting things to be possible, but that definition goes way beyond my first impression of the word.

Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep! (Proverbs 14:6)

Cynics - those who think human beings are basically motivated by selfish actions - have a hard time finding wisdom according to our passage today. Those who cannot entertain an opposing point of view have a hard time coming to a place of learning from their experiences, because experience is made richer when we are able to see the opposing point of view, even though we may not always agree with it. They also have a hard time learning so as to gain wisdom - wisdom is often found when realize a point of view other than our own. The cynic looks high and low - not just settling. They are on a quest - although they are looking, wisdom is just something they have a hard time finding! This means the cynic is not really "disinterested" totally in finding wisdom - he or she is just having a hard time wrapping their hands around it because they have a basic "bent" which causes them to not realize it is right in front of them! They don't see it because they have blinders that prevent them from perceiving it.

Know anyone who fits this type of personality - kind of a rebel of sorts, or one you may not really like to associate with all the time? Always suspicious of the actions of another - believing they must be doing whatever it is they are doing in order to gain something for themselves. This makes for a miserable view of life. To believe all action - both human and divine - is centered in selfish ambition minimizes any action of love or grace - no wonder the cynic has a miserable bent on life. It also makes for a life in which trust is elusive - they cannot find a place of trust within relationship, nor can they give it. No wonder they struggle with finding wisdom! Wisdom has a basis in trust - you have to experience knowledge in such a manner so as to develop a trust in it. For example, if you open a package of meat, only to be encountered with an odd smell, you might not "trust" the meat is fit for consumption. What led you to this conclusion? Perhaps it was the memory of the "smell" of rotting garbage you experienced on a hot summer day when you lifted the lid of your outside trash receptacle to throw away something. That pungent smell left an impression of something being "rotten" and not really good for eating! When you open the package of meat, a little off-color in appearance, the "smell" confirms your suspicion - it is rotting!

What happened when you lifted the trash can lid? You developed a memory of the "bad smell" and equated that smell with all things we call "garbage". What happened when you opened the package of spoiled meat? You "recalled" the memory. When you threw the package of spoiled meat in the trash instead of consuming it, you were exercising wisdom (practical application of knowledge). The cynic has a hard time with wisdom because they stop short of applying the knowledge. Why? Perhaps it is the past experience the cynic has had with "knowledge" of some sort. If they reached out to take a pretty flower into their hand and were stung by a bee the first time they did this, they likely would not "trust" flowers to be safe and enjoyable again no matter how pretty or inviting they looked! We "filter" all kinds of things through our minds and form memories of them in some fashion. Those memories go a long way in helping us interpret new "knowledge" as it comes our way. Right or wrong - we apply what we came to believe by our past experience and interpret all of life through that perspective or vantage point.

The cynic is best served by learning to trust afresh - something they will struggle with a bit, but if they just begin small and work their way up to bigger areas of trust within relationships, this will begin to turn the tides for them. The second part of our verse does not just speak of the wise - it speaks of the hope a cynic has in learning to open their mind to a new perspective in life. Not every "memory" of life is a good one to trust - it may have been captured and then retained, but every memory is not a wise one to entertain. We need the wisdom of Christ to help us sort out the ones which actually keep us from experiencing all the good in life God has prepared for his kids. When we come to Christ with open minds, he delights in filling them with "memories" we can trust! The cynic isn't helpless - he or she just needs to start small and allow the memories to be revisited, reviewed in the light of scripture, and renewed if suitable for keeping, discarded if not. Just sayin!


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