Most people would consider me an optimist. We are all familiar with the idea that an optimist sees a glass half filled with water as half-full while a pessimist refers to the glass as half-empty. Since I see a half-full glass of water as completely full, sufficient to do the job, does that make me a super optimist?
I have been asked more than once if I think my optimism is related to faith. Let me describe what I see as the connection and you can decide. Optimism based on unrealistic naiveté that completely ignores the dangers and downers of this world is not based on faith. Optimism based on positive thinking just for positive thinking’s sake is not based on faith. So is there an optimism based on faith?
Our world consists of both material and immaterial parts. When our focus is strictly on the material world, pessimism is often a natural outcome. Death, disease, disaster, disappointment are such a part of this world that it is easy to become discouraged. It is easy to see things we would like to change for the better, but we don’t know how or if they can even be changed. Our lives in the material world are defined by a negative action leads to negative consequence mentality; a world without grace and forgiveness. In short, a world without hope.
But when we allow ourselves to dwell on all that is true in the immaterial world, our cause for optimism goes up. This is the world we experience by faith. By faith, I know that I have a new heart. Now I did not receive a physical heart transplant when I believed the gospel message of Christ, but in the immaterial world a new heart is exactly what I received. By faith, I know that in Christ I have a new nature. Again, this was not a physical change, something I can observe in the material world with my five senses, but it is true nonetheless. In the immaterial world, I can view the people in my life through a fundamentally optimistic lens, because I know that they are created in God’s image and, if believers, now members of God’s family; children of God Himself, possessors of His divine nature. And negative actions on their part cannot change their new and essential identity.
Faith in action takes these beliefs and experiences of the immaterial world and brings them to bear on the material world we live in. I take action based on what I believe. I make choices for good based on my faith. When we only live in the material world, it is easy to weigh the evidence around us and come to negative conclusions about the world we inhabit. But when we live by faith, we bring the immaterial world – which is by far the more “real” world of eternity – into the picture and we influence our material world for good.
Do Christians still sin? Yes. Do believers disappoint each other? Yes. Do bad things happen to good people? Yes. Faith is believing that despite the sometimes evidence to the contrary in the material world, we do possess a power over sin, God’s family is filled with holy and beloved saints, and God is not the author of evil.
Yes, I believe there is a brand of optimism that is a sign of faith. We will always have personality issues that affect our optimism/pessimism traits. There will always be nature and nurture influences that affect how we see the world. The goal is not to compare ourselves with others and find which camp we fall into. The comparison is to ourselves. When we examine ourselves, are we becoming more trusting of God’s goodness as we grow up in the faith? Seeing ourselves as one or the other may depend on where we started, but as we move forward in experiencing more and more of God’s new covenant promises, I think what the world may see as optimism will be the picture of us walking by faith.