Question: God’s View on Optimism Vs. Pessimism

 mi-mi-92 asked:

This may be a strange question-is it against God to be pessimistic? In light of the S.Korea ferry tragedy, I pray that more survivors are rescued. But deep down, I don’t believe much more made it (although I hope I’m wrong). I feel bad for thinking this and I feel like I’m disrespecting God. Thoughts?

Hey there my friend, first of all: thank you for caring about the South Korean ferry incident.  I know that’s been far removed now from our collective minds because it’s no longer in the news, but I do appreciate you acknowledging them.  I don’t mean to sound snobby there, but we’re just so quick to forget about tornadoes and tsunamis and Trayvon Martin and so we move on to the next trendy thing.

I believe the nuance of Christian faith does call us to realistically assess the brokenness of the world while at the same time knowing there is a better hope above our circumstances, a hope that we can experience in the middle of our tragedies between heaven and heartache.  I don’t think the Christian needs to pick one or the other — we reach for both.

Scripture gives us the mental weaponry to legitimately face off against evil, suffering, and sin, calling out the world as it really is: a fractured fallen place of entropy.  So no Christian could ever be so optimistic that there is denial.  Yet we’re also called to persevere triumphantly amidst the mushroom cloud because nothing that happens on earth is the final word on our story.  No Christian will ever be so pessimistic that they’re hopeless.  Nothing here gets to write the conclusion on our lives.  You are never what happens to you.

Tragedy is very real, of course.  For long seasons, it can knock us out of orbit and we will eat dust and tears.  These are all the right responses.  The prophets in the Old Testament were a sad dramatic bunch, and I’m not making fun at all.  They tore their clothes and cursed at God and wore burlap sacks over their heads while screaming on street corners.  It wasn’t a pretty Oscar-worthy performance; we’re talking straight maudlin vomiting from all the horror of the world.  They were pessimistic a lot of the time, and they were right.

If you read Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, he’s describing a war-torn Jerusalem.  The streets are full of lawless riots.  No one is burying their dead, so corpses litter the streets.  Mothers are getting ready to eat their children.  And in the middle of this massacre, in all the fuming wreckage, Jeremiah writes a remarkable passage:

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In other words, the Christian perspective is that we are the most sorrowful and most joyful people of all.  We do not deny our humanness and we fully feel pain, yet we experience the highest of highs.  We live within an unresolved tension by closing the loop where we can, bringing healing to the best of our ability, knowing that the door can close but that nothing is truly over yet.

I’ll leave you with a quote here:

“Look at Jesus. He was perfect, right? And yet he goes around crying all the time. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because he is perfect. Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping. The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.”

— Timothy Keller

— J.S.

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