The Positive Pessimist

Some see the glass as half-empty and others see it as half-full. Both are correct, so I am not sure that this idiom is really an indication of a person’s outlook. In my view, it is less about the current level of water in the glass, and more about how concerned a person is with the future level of the water. The pessimist is worried that soon the whole glass will be empty. “What will we do, then?” the pessimist asks. Of course, I have found that most pessimists prefer to be called realists because they are convinced that their perspective is more true. As for myself, I have determined that my own outlook is a paradox. I tend to be pessimistic about the long-term possibilities, while I am positive regarding the short-term day-to-day things of life. I have often referred to myself as an ‘Upbeat Pessimist.’ Add to this that depression can make it difficult for me to have a rational outlook on my life and the future. In addition to my own experiences, I have spent a lot of time around people who have a negative outlook. I have decided that it is worry about the future that most defines a pessimist.

I’ve come to a point in my life where my desire is to have the perspective on life that God wants me to have. It’s easier said than done, but I know that I shouldn’t be living as though I have no hope. The New Testament clearly calls us to “Rejoice always.” (1 Thes. 5:16) Both Paul and Peter wrote specifically about having joy in suffering and difficulty. We have record of both apostles living this out, as they were persecuted and faced execution for preaching the Gospel. No one can pretend that this command to find happiness in the midst of life’s trials is easy for Christians. As a result, many believers want to split hairs about the definition of joy. If they can separate joy from happiness, they can say they are rejoicing even when they are moping like Eeyore, with a cloud of negativity and worry following them around.

“Or which of you, if his son asks him for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-11

I realized this week that there is more to these attitudes than just a negative or positive outlook on the future. I saw how the pessimist even has difficulty enjoying the good things. How can we ever learn to have a happy heart in affliction, if we don’t even allow ourselves to rejoice when God blesses us? Yet the pessimist is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Things may be good, now,” she says, “but it won’t last.” The book of Ecclesiastes states that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . .” (Eccl. 3:4) But if a person is consumed with worry about the future, there will only be time for anxiety and complaining.

I often find myself trying to encourage some of my more pessimistic friends that God will be faithful no matter how their current situations turn out. But this week, it really hit me; it isn’t just about His faithfulness. Underlying the faithfulness is His goodness. We need to trust that whatever happens, God is good. If we are celebrating the achievement of a lifetime, God is good. If we are imprisoned, like many saints before us, God is good. And with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) This is our hope for the future that the writer of Hebrews describes as a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” (Hebrews 6:19) My Coast Guard background makes any seafaring analogies special to me. For those who haven’t been around boats or ships, you need to know that not all anchors are alike. And anchors do not always hold. There are dangers to dropping anchor, and the captain needs to know where he is, how deep the water is, and what the sea floor is like. But God is a “sure and steadfast anchor.” We don’t have to worry about all of the dangers of the storm or the sea; He holds us fast no matter what comes our way. So why is it so difficult for us to live like people who have hope?

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

I don’t want to boil everything down to optimist or pessimist. That is far too simplistic, and there are too many personalities to account for. I do want to say that Christians should strive to live with a positive attitude toward the future because we have so much to look forward to. Reading and studying God’s word is the key to having this outlook on life because we cannot cling to His promises if we don’t know what they are. Our optimism is “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” that we know lies at the end of this “light momentary affliction.” (2 Cor. 4:17) We live not waiting for the worst, but knowing that the best is yet to come. We have Romans 8:28 and James 1:3 when the trials come. We live with hope, knowing that we have a God who loves us, and who calls us His sons and daughters. Joy doesn’t come from a naïve view that life will always be rosy. It is a fruit of the Spirit that is cultivated by our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the hope we have in our unchanging, merciful, loving, and good, good God.

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