After a week of a spiritual mini-retreat, I’m grateful to get back in the saddle on the blog today. From February 14-23, I was visiting the House of Prayer in Kansas City. I made some new friendships, enjoyed some healthy Kingdom connections and was impacted by long, anonymous, uninterrupted hours in the prayer room as God was speaking. While I was away, I was involved in conversations where the issue of one’s general outlook on life came up. People, including me, are odd. That is no slight at all; we are all a little foreign to one another, and one of the best skills that we can cultivate is the ability to listen to others without feeling any impulse to refute them or endorse them. God was creative in His fashioning of them, and He is still not finished with any of us. I have found that we typically throw one another into two groups when it comes to a potential general outlook on life: the optimist or the pessimist. While I’m unsure if too many people are always optimistic about everything, or habitually pessimistic concerning all that might find them in life, I do believe we all have a natural bend one way or the other. The key word in that last sentence is natural.
This will not likely bring surprise to too many of you but…I have spent most of my life leaning toward the pessimistic view.
Most likely a byproduct of my childhood wherein I experienced a fair share of disappointment, my natural skepticism was simply part of who I was. It used to have a crippling effect on me, but I am growing in my understanding of how to own it, and also how to use it without it abusing me. Not enough people allow for the positive effects of a leaning toward pessimism and, as a result, they spend their days skipping off into cottony-soft world of everything’s-gonna-be-wonderful (did you note the pessimism in that last phrase?). Pessimists usually develop their view in a subconscious mode of self-protection. In its seed form, pessimism seems to reason with us by saying, “Always believe the worst and you will never be disappointed. If things end up better than you predicted, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Either way, you win. Gooooooo pessimism!” Obviously, I don’t think that this kind of mindset is compatible with trusting God, and it likely makes us susceptible to leaning to our own understanding, but I also would suggest that unbridled optimism can lead to a denial of reality and a lack of biblical discernment.
In the end, what we really need is a heavy, extra-strength dose of REALITY interpreted through the lens of faith and Gospel hope. When confronted by someone who addresses my pessimistic tendencies, I usually protest that I am simply a realist. We live in a broken world that is riddled with sin, filled with depraved people (including you and me), and rapidly retreating from all that could ever be considered holy, loving, kind and good. Do you believe this to be true about the world in which we live? Be careful, this might become fertile ground for some pessimism. However, let it also be known that we live in a world wherein the God of glory is sovereignly working in redemption, defying our logic, rescuing the most vile among us, and is ultimately determined to restore all things to His decreed perfection. Watch out, all you militant pessimists, because this is compelling support for why we might choose to live in optimism. When these two opposing observations about our world are rooted properly in our hearts, we end up with something beautiful called spiritual discernment. How should it look?
Pessimistic about human nature, optimistic about Divine nature.
We have appropriate pessimism about the things that operate in opposition to the rule of God, while retaining our optimism that, when God determines to intervene, amazing things occur. I am pessimistic about the substance of anything that is not rooted in the heart of God and the nature of His Son. Government? Pessimistic. Human morality? Pessimistic. The countless marketing for wares that offer the ushering in of the newest thing that is going to fundamentally change your life? Pessimistic. An appropriate level of pessimism prevents you from living as a naive lamb in a world that is breeding wolves. Yet, as Kingdom-informed Jesus-followers, we can never fail to remember that, as we progress toward the climax of the age, it ends with the return of a Glorious King, before whom every created being will bow and confess His lordship. Things may be bad, and they certainly are in the majority of the earth, but the badness is not permanent. The triumph granted to us in Jesus Christ is the overriding factor. Do not allow that to rest solely in the realm of your theology – it must flavor your life. Do not merely nod at the hope that we have in Jesus, chase it down and ingest it. Let it get in your gut and move through your veins. We need our minds perpetually renewed by the Holy Spirit, and He is not working to make us primarily to become deeply skeptical, militantly guarded and awaiting every new opportunity to stand up and thunder to all those silly optimists, “Aha! I told you so!” Somewhere along the line, Gospel-optimism must become the truest lens through which you view all of life. The overcoming nature of the Kingdom has been released to earth by God, and it breeds hope wherever it is planted in good soil. Hope is the antidote to the potential to live in an all-consuming, soured pessimism. Paul wrote in Romans 14:17 that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Sprit, not paranoia, skepticism and gloom in the human spirit. If every disappointment, lie, challenge or loss that finds you in life signals an unmitigated catastrophe in your thought-life and emotions, you have become disconnected from hope. Pesimissim has metastasized in your soul. That is not the plan of God for any of our lives. Maybe Jesus was touching on this need to operate with a light dose of pessimistic caution that is mixed with a higher dose of Kingdom optimism when He told His disciples to go out into the world, “wise as serpents, harmless as doves”. Wise as serpents keeps us from being fooled. Harmless as doves keeps us from wrongly believing that everyone is out to fool us.
So which one do you lean toward? I would love to hear from you in the comment section. Pessimism, Optimism? Or have you the seasoned ability to declare yourself a well-balanced realist? Be careful, someone you know might be reading and they might call your bluff! (was that last statement pessimism or realism?)