72 – Should You Be an Optimist or a Pessimist?
Chuck Daly, former coach of the Orlando Magic, once quipped, “A pessimist is an optimist with experience.”
Look long at the world and you can get depressed. It happens to Christians too-there are tons of jaded, cynical Christians out there. But is that the right attitude? Should a Christian have a negative view of the world?
Frankly, I’m the happiest, most optimistic person I know. Recently, though, I almost gave in to the impulse to become negative, jaded, and cynical. It culminated after seeing a debauched commercial during a football game (which is mentioned below). I didn’t think my attitude squared up with Christianity, so I spent some time thinking about why it was happening. I discovered a truth so profound it changed my life. I believe it can change yours as well.
First, though, let’s look at why good-hearted Christians can look at the world and come to different conclusions. As a friend says, “Where you sit is where you stand.”
THE GOOD TIMES PERSPECTIVE
Some Christians are sitting on top of the world. We are experiencing the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history. The last decade has created an exponential increase in wealth. We are experiencing the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history (estimated at $10.4 trillion between 1990 and 2040). Unemployment and inflation are extremely low. These are good times.
College seniors offer a hopeful picture. A survey of students from 101 college and universities found:
- Of people they most admire, moms and dads come out on top
- Honesty and integrity are cited most often as attributes that matter
- 96% intend to get married at an average age of 26
- 91% hope to have children
- 90% agree helping others is more important than helping oneself
- 73% report having volunteered in the past year
- 58% said they are very likely to do future volunteer work
- 89% believe in God
- 75% believe in life after death
- 68% attend religious services at least occasionally
- 52% think religion will be as important in the future as now
- 45% think religion will be even more important
- They said the two most important future career features are idealistic and dedicated co-workers (67%) and the opportunity to help others (65%).
Below the radar screens of the popular press is an avalanche of ministry and Christian mission activity. Millions of dedicated Christians are sending encouraging emails, driving invalids to doctor’s appointments, taking meals to the sick, sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Many Christians are engaging the world and making a difference for the glory of God. We may not see as much progress as we would like, but how much more would evil prevail if these believers were not standing in the gap? And 34% of all Americans indicate they are born again.
THE BAD TIMES PERSPECTIVE
On the other hand, some Christians are stuck in the cheap seats. It is now being reported that 52% of marriages end in divorce. Fifty percent of all white children and seventy-five percent of all black children born in the last two decades are likely to live for some portion of their childhood with only their mothers. According to the FBI, “A missing father is a more reliable predictor of criminal activity than race, environment, or poverty.”
According to the Pro-Life Action League 1,370,000 abortions took place in 1996, and 34,000,000 total abortions have taken place. An estimated 43% of women will have at least 1 abortion by the time they are 45 years old. Since 1973, African-American women have had almost 10 million abortions. The current population of black Americans is 31 million. Essentially, we’re talking about the infanticide of 25% of an ethnic group in 27 years.
Meanwhile, more powerful and deadly drugs continue to traffic past the diligent but understaffed Drug Enforcement Agency. Less than 3,000 feet from my home, young people die regularly from drug overdoses. In refusing to close the all-night bottle club the judge remarked, “I don’t know if it is the place that’s killing them, or they go there to kill themselves.”
Sexuality immorality is flaunted on TV. In an ad running during a recent Sunday afternoon football game for a new fall series a female school official asks a teenaged girl, “Are you sexually active?” She says, “Well, I think so, but my boyfriend says I should wiggle and move around more.” (If this shocks your sensibilities write Fox, not me. If this does not shock your sensibilities, fall down on your face and plead for shame). There is more sexual titillation in this morning’s newspaper than a copy of Playboy in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, men are spending more than they make. The savings rate for July 2000 was negative .2%. This reverses all previous economic expansions when savings rates increased. Today the ethos is to spend more because we have it. Half the car ads don’t even bother giving prices anymore, just the monthly payment. This says nothing of crime, poverty, racism, ethnic cleansing, government corruption, and dishonest business dealings.
So which is it? Are these good times or bad times? Should we be optimistic or cynical? It’s confusing, isn’t it?
Kierkegaard, the 17th century Danish philosopher and Christian writer, captured it when he said, “The wisdom of the years is confusing. Only the wisdom of eternity is edifying.”
Here is a staggering truth that can deliver us from negativity: If Christianity is true we can let our theology determine our attitude, not our wisdom.
What is our theology? I think too often we look at circumstances, get overwhelmed, and forget-we forget that God is sovereign. There are three forces at work in the world-good, evil, and futility-and God has them in precisely the balance He has sovereignly orchestrated.
Yes, the whole world is a prisoner of sin; men do what seems right in their own eyes, and he has allowed the devil to roam about for a season (the world, the flesh, and the devil). But we also know the earth is full of God’s glory; he delights in his creation; and he works all things together for good. God’s system is perfectly designed to produce the result He wants.
My God is omnipotent. My God is omniscient. My God is omni-benevolent. My God is sovereign. My God is holy. My God is real. My God is here. My God is in charge. The battle belongs to the Lord. He has already disarmed the devil on the cross. Yes, He has allowed Satan to roam about for a season, but he is a felled foe.
The danger is to let our circumstances determine our attitude rather than our theology. The simple facts are that everyone gets cheated, everyone gets sick and we are all sinners. Yet God is good, his purposes will prevail, no wicked deed catches God by surprise, and he does not have little beads of sweat popping out on His forehead over whether or not His will is going to be done. God isn’t sitting on His throne wringing His hands about the state of the nation-His hands make the nations rise and fall.
I have decided to let my theology determine my attitude, not my circumstances. I urge you to do the same.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
©2000. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This may be reproduced with proper attribution for non-commercial purposes.