Friday, November 18, 2005

The Way of Optimism, Pessimism, or Faith?

Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or faithful?

These terms, I think, represent three different world views. The first two are based on the same rather naive premise. Both the pessimist and the optimist believe, at some level, that the world ought to bend to their wishes.

The optimist holds onto the childish--by that I mean, immature--notion that his or her momentary happiness is such an important order of business for the universe, that things must go the way he or she wants them to go.

The pessimist is likely a one-time optimist or a young person schooled by pessimists. Pessimists too, are so self-absorbed that like optimists, they're offended when things don't go as they wish them to go. They become cynical and perceive themselves to be wise in the ways of the world. They're really only bores and leeches who drain life and joy from those who have to be around them.

One of my seminary professors, a man who had been through some horrible experiences in his life, told us that while it would have been horrible pastoral practice, when dealing with a pessimist or a crushed optimist asking, "Why has this happened to me?," he had to fight the impulse to shake them and ask, "Well, why not you?"

The person of faith is different from pessimists or optimists. She or he realizes that life on this planet isn't perfect and is often unfair, but God is present with them anyway. They also know that God specializes in taking rotten circumstances, even death, and giving new insights, courage, character, and life to those with faith.

With a realistic understanding of their own personal deficiencies and of the possibility of suffering, sorrow, and setbacks in this life, they know that they are never stronger than when, in moments of weakness, they dare to draw strength from the God of all creation Who, on a cross, became well-acquainted with sorrow and ultimately, through His resurrection, won a victory for all with faith in Christ that never ends.

Dan writes courageously about his four-year-old recovery from alcoholism here. I don't know where Dan is in his faith journey. But I do know that the Alcoholics Anonymous program to which he refers is rooted in the Christian Gospel's call for us to be utterly candid with God about our suffering, our sin, and our need of Him.

The Gospel insists that if we will turn our past, present, and future over to the God we know through Jesus Christ, all of our lives--especially the painful times--will become crucibles in which the old self, pulled this way and that by optimism and pessimism, will die and a new self, scarred by life and starred by God, can emerge.

This new self walks with greater confidence--not in ourselves and not in the ultimate acquiescence of the world to our particular hopes and dreams. Our confidence, in good and bad times, is in the God seen in Jesus Christ, Who stands with us now and promises us an eternity of fulfillment and awesome new adventures with Him.

In the posthumously published, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times, the late Dutch priest and scholar Henri Nouwen writes:
When Jesus said, "For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Matt. 9:13), he affirmed that only those who can face their wounded condition can be available for healing and enter into a new way of living.
Optimists and pessimists never face the reality of their woundedness and so wall themselves off from the healing of spirit, soul, and psyche God sent Jesus into the world to bring. The way of faith isn't easy. But it is the way of real life!

UPDATE: Here are links to two past posts that relate to this topic:
Two Hope-Filled Promises
Hope Meets Despair

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