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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Problem with Optimism

image source: No Mas

2011 has been one of the best years of my life. Our five children have each achieved remarkable accomplishments. My husband has finally moved on from a job of incredible pressures. We've received new material blessings that are enriching our lives. The Lord has proven His faithfulness and love for me in innumerable ways, and I love Him more than ever.

2011 has also been one of the worst years of my life, personally, emotionally, and physically. Amid numerous trials, I've been forced to learn the problem with optimism.

optimism : noun 1 hopefulness and confidence about the future or success of something. 2 [Philosophy] the doctrine that this world is the best of all possible worlds.

The first part of that definition lines up perfectly with the way Scripture paints hope:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
~ Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

"For I know the purposes which I am weaving for you," says YHWH, "purposes of peace, and not for evil—to give you a future and a hope."
~ Jeremiah 29:11 (author)

But optimism tends to go beyond the first definition—beyond the hope provided by faith. Optimism wants to go on to define success in terms which are clearly seen, and seen sooner rather than later. While optimism doesn't deny God's promise that the next world will be the far better one, it nonetheless expects life in this world to come close.

God operates on a timetable that defies any schedule. He specializes not in successes the world recognizes, but of the unseen, in realms of the human heart. The effects of His work cannot be hidden, and will bear testimony of His presence at some point. Yet like the tip of an iceberg, what is seen is but a hint of what lies beneath the surface.

If optimism goes far enough to become presumptuous about either the goal of God's work, the method of God's work, or which person achieves God's work (Him or me), optimism may encounter that iceberg with a horrific crash.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)

Though the French roots of 'optimism' stem from the Latin 'optimum,' the two should never be confused.

optimum : adjective most likely to lead to a favorable outcome. : noun the most favorable conditions for growth, reproduction, or success.

The Lord creates optimum conditions for His goals to be achieved, His methods to be successful, and His glory to be seen. The Bible describes God's "optimum conditions" with words like:

I think maybe optimism can be a presumptuous and worldly substitute for true faith in the unseen and true hope in God's sure promises. Maybe. I'm not sure yet.

What I do know is that my lifelong optimism has been shaken to its core, while my hope is strong and my faith is undiminished.

And faith tells me that it may be a good thing to let go of optimism and simply stick with hope.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
~ John 16:33 (NKJV)

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Copyright 2011, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Faith and hope... just enough.. to rejoice even in the midst of difficult situation...

  2. Thank you, Denise. I thank God that our hope is so certain because it is established in Him and His faithfulness! \o/

  3. You make me laugh, Nataša! I'm greedy for more than "just enough." But I am grateful that God never supplies too little. : )

  4. Amen.

    He will do whatever it takes to bring us into a right relationship with Himself. And all that He does is, by definition Good - even optimal.

    As we trust Him, we begin to see that all the pain, all the suffering, all the temporal loss is the best way home. Would that we might only and always trust this One who is Life and Love!

    Happy New Year sister!

  5. Makala, I encountered two interesting comments on affliction today. The first made me wince, to ponder its validity:
    "The greatest affliction of life is to never be afflicted."
    ~ Unknown

    The second confirmed the first:
    It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
    That I may learn Your statutes.
    ~ Psalm 119:71

  6. i am only one man.

    But my experience confirm 119:71.

    He had to absolutely crush everything out of my hands... i came out finally from my former life of family, cars, career, stuff, disobedience, power and position with no health, no freedom, no money, no hope, some clothes and four pictures of my kids...

    and then i found HIM.

    He has made me now the richest man on the planet. i won't even argue the point. To lose everything and to find Him is absolutely the best deal in the universe.

    OBTW, He is beginning to restore the other people and things too... Who is like Him to do stuff like that too?!?!

    Oh my... enough transparency for today :)

  7. Makala, I've read enough of your blog to know that you're no stranger to transparency.

    I was recently explaining the seasons to my young son. As usual, I put everything in context of God. Spring is His time to wake up the earth and create life. Summer is His time of heat and hardest work. Autumn is His time to reap the fruit of our works. And winter is His time of sleep and rest, and even dying.

    I found myself getting choked up, for reasons no six-year-old might understand. I sensed the Comforter's presence, and found Him nudging me to consider the seasons of our spiritual life. I'd guess we'd like it to always be spring or autumn, to always experience either the excitement of new life or the bounty of harvest. (And if we've sown bad seeds and worked them deeply in, we'll harvest weeds for years to come—yes?) Whatever our fondness of the earth's summer and winter, wouldn't we like to avoid the hardest work and deepest deaths of spiritual summer and winter?

    God's seasons include pruning—the process of dying that results not in death but new life. "To everything there is a season ... He has made everything beautiful in its time."

    My "optimism" has been shaken. But I am no pessimist. Is it optimism which remembers that spring will return? Or is it hope, bred by faith in His Word, which chooses to remember His promise:

    "While the earth remains,
    Seedtime and harvest,
    Cold and heat,
    Winter and summer,
    And day and night
    Shall not cease."
    Genesis 8:22


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