The Cost of Cynicism
"Why bother?" Have you been caught off guard by this retort...or perhaps uttered it yourself? The way of thinking goes: "There's no use trying. This is just the way it is." And such an outlook may seem realistic in the face of some insurmountable challenge. Indeed, we encounter this reasoning in Mark 5 shortly after a man named Jairus asks Jesus to follow him to his home to heal his dying daughter. Mark reports, "While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. 'Your daughter is dead,' they said. 'Why bother the teacher any more?'" (v.35).
Given this ominous news, their rhetorical question appears entirely reasonable, though they surely show a lack of compassion for Jairus or an understanding of what has just taken place: Jesus was speaking with a woman who was immediately healed when she touched his garments. Yet what interests me further is the attitude often veiled in this question: resignation, cynicism, and false pride.
In the face of disappointment or despair our world may encourage a “Why bother?” attitude, but if we take a few moments to really consider this way of thinking we discover just how costly it really is. Moreover, it is anathema to the Scriptures and all that Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus's response couldn't be more revealing: "Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, 'Don't be afraid; just believe'" Arriving at Jairus's home, Jesus then ushers those cynically laughing at him out of the house and raises the child to life again before her father and mother.
Now we may reason, "That was then; this is now. Am I honestly to pray and believe that God is going to resurrect a loved one?" No, this isn't quite what this passage is teaching, for such historical narrative first and foremost provides evidence that Jesus is God incarnate (rather than three principles for receiving an answer to prayer). However, the evidence of Jesus's identity and power unfolds a very tangible application, and one that we find throughout the gospels. That is this: If God can really overcome death and raise someone to life, surely is God not also able to strengthen, heal, or provide for us in times of trouble? Furthermore, "if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:11). The question it seems then is whether we believe that this same life-giving power can be at work within us or whether we've resigned ourselves to "This is just the way it is."
A widow without a family in first-century Greco-Roman society could have easily concluded "Why bother?" before a powerful judge who "neither feared God nor cared about men" and who refused her petition for justice.(1) Yet Jesus employs this very story to teach us about prayer. Refusing to believe that "this is just the way it is," the widow persists in her cry for justice to the judge. "For some time he refused," says Jesus. "But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"
David Wells comments on this parable: "Nothing destroys petitionary prayer (and with it, a Christian view of God) as quickly as resignation. 'At all times,' Jesus declared, 'we should pray' and not 'lose heart,' thereby acquiescing to what is."
For "what is" is not always "just the way it is" if we will bother to pray and not lose heart. Yes, such fearless persistence and prayer is indeed costly, yet to counter "Why bother?" is surely costlier still.
Danielle DuRant is research assistant for Ravi Zacharias at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See Luke 18: 1-8.