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Cynicism, Idealism, and Proximate Justice

Filed under: Discipleship,life,Palestine / Israel — 9:12 am
Proximate Justice

Proximate Justice

In my early 20s, I became a cynic. I gleefully excelled in the twisted art of poking holes and always finding the worst in things. (Oh what a joy I was to be around.) And after a couple years, I assumed that I must be a fundamentally pessimistic, negative person.

But over the last decade or so – through honest friendships, plenty of therapy, and God’s grace – the “thing beneath the thing” has been coming to light. As it turns out, I’m not a cynic at all.  Not even a “glass is half empty” person. But instead…

I’m a hopeless optimist who doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment.

I can see the epic beauty of what’s possible, and this fills me with life, passion, and hope. There’s always a glorious new idea to chase around the upcoming corner.  But when reality doesn’t live up to what’s in my head and heart, I am often crushed by the disappointment.

Are there any frustrated idealists out there? Raise your hand if you’ve been hiding under cynical armor.  I see that hand. Me too.

To be honest, the last two weeks of global events have been overwhelming and depressing.  Especially the devastation in Gaza. And even though I believe that every person on earth has been invited to join God in healing and restoring the world, lately I just want to give up. Things will NEVER be completely fixed, so why keep trying?

Thankfully, one of my heroes in peacemaking shared this stunningly brilliant article called “Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber.  Here’s his point…

“What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the all-or-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage, or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either.”

Are you as inflicted by “the all-or-nothing syndrome” as I am?  Either my job is everything I’ve ever dreamed it can be…or I want to quit. Either my marriage is like the movies every second…or I want to bail. Either I am single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East…or what’s the point of even trying. Right?

Please take a moment to soak in the challenging and healing words from Stephen Garber below. He has given his life to both gut-wrenching honesty AND relentless hope…or as he says “I do not know of any challenge that is more difficult than to really know the world, and still choose to love it.” We can’t give up. Honesty and hope. Leaning in with eyes and hearts wide open…

“Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber





  1. This resonates deeply. I run a small fair trade business. It’s not going exactly how I want it to. Not growing as fast as I want it to. Not helping as many people as I want it to. I can’t wait to read the Stephen Garber article- just printed it. The problems of poverty and human trafficking were what drove our family to do this business. But, they’re huge, complex problems. Do we keep going even though we’re just maybe making a dent? I have to continually remember that God’s calling us into a narrative of redemption that we didn’t write. That my role in this is just the part he’s calling me into. Even though it’s messy and imperfect and takes way longer than I think it should.

    Comment by Robin — July 23, 2014 @ 9:55 am

  2. crudox!


    Comment by luke — July 23, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

  3. Hi Aaron.

    Thanks for the honest thoughts here. I have perfectionist leanings, and so this makes sense to me. I’m on a healing journey (for lack of a better phrase) as well, and I frequently how to accept the ‘neither-black-nor-white’ reality of everyday living. It is difficult for me to accept that the nature of growth is not linear; that growth is more like a coiled spring than a straight line. A perfectionist who wants to do it all finds this very difficult. Learning grace – to receive and give it – is very difficult, but rewarding. All that to say, I can relate to the journey you’re on.

    Comment by Jenn Collard — July 24, 2014 @ 9:13 am

  4. This is a great post. It really made me think a lot about my attitude and how I view the world as it actually is rather through my cultural lens of what I think it is. The wourld can be a really dark place at times. I think the author is asking a very intelligent question how do we live in the in between? I don’t even think that is a question I know how to answer honestly. I also really enjoy what Bono said. He writes music and at the end of the day hopes he helped to extinguish a little piece of darkness in the world. As a musician myself that’s something I also try and accomplish even when I’m playing music by myself. it’s also encouraging to know that I’m not alone. Not only is Christ with me but it’s really helpful for me when I can read stories like the last blogger Jen about her personal struggle with perfectionism and grorth and her healing journey. Or even the blogger before her Robin who was talking about the struggles of owning her fear trade business. Incredible story. These people and their many stories are the type of people that I lean on even when I don’t know them. Their story matters and somehow it’s all connected. Every day I get up asking the same question do I matter is what I’m doing matter do I really make a difference. But as the author pointed out something is better than nothing and for me that something is hope. Good post Aaron I didn’t mean to ramble on got a little carried away with this one

    Comment by Jordan gilliam — July 24, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

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