From Optimism to Hope
by Christopher C. Thompson
The glass is half full. I’ve always been like that. Studies show most people are optimists. Or, at least that’s what they profess to be. I agree: I think most people like to look at the world from a positive perspective. If nothing else, you see yourself as the source of positive potential. In other words, you see within yourself the potential to make something positive happen. You’ll move to a new city, get a new job, go back to school, find a new boo, start a business, invent the latest new gadget, become instagram or YouTube famous, strike it big and secure the bag.
I suppose we’re hard wired that way—endowed with a penchant for limitless possibility and creativity. We were made to make things happen. And with this creative ability, a belief that if I work it, it will work.
However, I think the present order of things has posed a major challenge to people’s positive outlook. There’s serial instability of global financial markets. The potential for a nuclear holocaust is governed by a hair-trigger, while the fans of strife are blowing in a windstorm. Hate hangs over our shoulders; haunting us with the echoes of unrepentant national sins and present prevailing threats. Fear attempts to strangle our sense of security. Depression rates continue to increase. Yesterday, I attended a funeral of a seventeen year-old boy who committed suicide. He was funeralized on his 18th birthday. This refrain appears to be the norm now. Things weren’t like this twenty years ago.
So while we may believe that the glass if half full, there are tremendous deterrents that threaten to shatter the glass altogether. Which is why I believe that optimism and human potential are insufficient to meet the challenges in the present world, and the pressing challenges in our lives in the 21st century. We need something more than optimism.
Hope Does Not Disappoint
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV).
This has become one of my favorite passages in recent months. I’ve become enthralled with the concept of hope. Hope is what optimism wants to be when it grows up. Hope happens when optimism develops faith. At the center of optimism is belief that statistics, luck, chance, human effort and motherwit will win out. The fact is though, even the best hitters in professional baseball only hit three out of ten fastballs. I need something more sure than a 33% success rate.
While the center of optimism is the human strength, the center of hope is the power of love of the Almighty God. As Christians, we believe that God is able to do anything. We believe that God loves us and that divine power constantly moves to affect affairs of the world so that what may be bad might not be a lot worse.
The Problem of Evil
And then there arises the inevitable question: so why doesn’t an all-powerful God simply obliterate the potential for evil or harm to innocent people? It is a question that has been posed for ages and it has a field of study all it’s own. In theological circles the key word in this discussion is “theodicy.” Theodicy is the study of God’s providence and ultimate vindication. It explores how God deals with evil. Here are the cliff notes.
If God obliterates the evil one (Satan) and thwarts every evil machination in the blink of an eye, then in actuality Satan wins. This space doesn’t permit a thorough exploration of this concept. However, remember God is love. Love is patient. Love is kind…and so in order for God’s loving essence to be vindicated, the love of God must prove consistent and bear up under the assaults of the evil one. Remember, patient, kind, long-suffering… God must wait. God must wait for the machinations of evil to run their inevitable course. Greed must be allowed to prove that it is devoid of compassion. Hate must be allowed to ring from the most illustrious seats of power. The axis of evil must have space to prove that the way of the evil one will only end in destitution, devastation and destruction. But in the end, truth, justice and love prevails. In the end, God wins.
Christians are prisoners or hope. We are commanded to trust God. As Christians, our very lives depend upon our faith in God. We are mindful that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith is God-focus. God-focus results in hope and assurance that God can, and God will fix all of this.
For Christians, this is not a theory. This is an irrefutable fact. In the mind of every Christian rings the refrain of that promised pronouncement, “Behold I make all things new.” And thus, at the center of the hope of the Christian is the certainty of the Second Coming of Christ and eternal life with God. The Christian worldview has this grand reality in full view, and that despite the struggles of the present predicament the promised paradise always takes precedence. “We have this hope,” and hope does not ever disappoint. Even so come Lord Jesus.
Christopher C. Thompson works in Huntsville, Alabama for the Breath of Life broadcast and ministry. He and his wife Tracy have one son, Christopher II.