This one comes to us from Kenneth Tanner.

I run with cynics. I find them in the church. I find them in bars, coffee houses, and at baseball games, and on the screens we stare at all the time.

And the first thing I want to say is that I am at times one myself.

The shadows of the world breed cynicism in our souls.

It is wise at times to be mistrusting of strangers, of leaders, of institutions, of politicians, of the people we are programmed all our lives to trust.

I get it.

I once served a weekend in jail for a protest. I have suffered from asthma most of my life and it used to be a lot more severe than it is now. I woke up on my jail cot gasping for air. I shuffled across the common area to the nearest guard and handed him my medical slip. It was clear I was in distress. He crumpled it up, threw it on the ground, and walked away.

In one moment a lot of things I’d trusted about my privilege melted away. I have never thought of prisoners or guards in quite the same way again.

Now jails and prisons—when I am in them visiting prisoners or guards—are one of the few places I am able to see the world most clearly, in its brokenness and in its beauty.

In places of incarceration all the bullshit and all of the distractions disappear. The failure of human justice and the goodness of divine mercy crystallize. There I am not able to deny that the world is a living hell subservient to death. I am not able to escape to a realm of fantasy. I do some of my clearest thinking and living when I am behind bars.

And here’s what I’ve learned:

We cannot live well—we especially cannot thrive—as unalloyed cynics. It is not only unhealthy but dishonest to remain a pessimist. Eventually it becomes a kind of denial. Yes, the natural order is broken and people are crooked, but that’s not nearly the whole story, not by a long shot.

Gratitude brings life, causes us to thrive, and such thankfulness is as much about attitude—about an internal disposition granted by grace—as it is about gratitude’s gift to see things as they actually are, the capacity to remain in child-like awe at the wonder and beauty of everything even when you know all is not as it should be, not by a long shot.

Jesus calls this the eyes—the eyes of faith, the eyes of the heart—to see the world and its people with the eyes of God, with the human and divine vision of Jesus that is ours by the Spirit.

If on a cloudless night you drive on Interstate 40 far enough into the desert of New Mexico and pull your car over and get out and look up, you’ll see a curtain made of stars, a fabric of lights, like a billowing lace work in the sky.

Have you ever seen a doe or mare give birth, or watched sapphire waves crashing on the dark blonde sands, or walked among giant sequoias, their trunks worn by standing in their forests for millennia?

And it’s not just raw nature that inspires wonder. There is the life of great cities like New York, Paris, or Shanghai, bustling hives of creative activity, everywhere in view the artistry of men and women who have erected from nature an intricate fabricated world to inhabit.

There is plenty of darkness close at hand in our cities to inspire suspicion and detachment, yet there is also—if one looks beyond the dead-ahead stares of the rushed and preoccupied, past the caution, greed, and disinterest, and (if you can) the radical disparities our urban centers showcase—something to behold of the collective imagination, ingenuity, and diversity of humanity, whom God made in his image.

I was on Manhattan for the day in the middle of the week and marveled at the grand diversity of humanity I was privileged to walk among: so many older humans, so many younger humans, humans of every color and ethnicity, scattering or unhurried, some smiling, some blank, some laughing, some stressed. It was beautiful to join this throng of God’s magnificent creatures, each one loved by God from eternity and to eternity.

And there is also human courage and loyalty and empathy and self-sacrifice in places that are not shiny with constructed beauty or limitless resources.

In places where the good things necessary to life are in shortest supply, we find the image of God in men and women is very much alive and well. We find a pure joy for life in places of genuine poverty, like the slums of Kampala, Port-au-Prince, and Calcutta.

We find pure joy amid hell.

It is of course Christ the human who is the true measure of humanity, who laid down his life so that we might find our life, our humanity, in him. And he is in his actions and words finally the end of all cynicism and suspicion and fear, the origin of faith and trust and confidence.

Look to Christ and trust and you will find joy not as anticipation of another place alien to earth or as a denial of this fractured one but by a transfiguring vision that sees this darkened planet with the vibrant colors and sacred textures of the kingdom God intends right here, right now, and onward, world without end.

You will see this created world not by the natural light of the sun or moon but by the uncreated light of the Father, which shines on the face of Jesus Christ, the light that illuminates every thing and every person and reveals their hidden, deep-down goodness.

Image credits: Joey Kyber, Broken Inaglory, Giuseppe Milo