Optimists. You know the type. For them everything is always looking up, it will all work out, and life is consistently rosy. Their joyful attitude can be an encouragement to other believers, but for others, the optimist's perkiness can be downright grating.
These are the pessimists, they are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always looking for the rain in the cloud, and constantly expecting the worst. They might not call themselves pessimists, perhaps just realists. Life has brought them pain, and they expect more of the same in the future. They reason—why be gullible like the optimist and risk getting caught flat-footed by another calamity?
Should Christians be optimists or pessimists? Is one more inherently spiritual than the other? I am going to argue that Christians, of all people, ought to have the most positive outlook on life. The reason Christians should be positive is not that we are blissfully unaware of the pains of life, but in the midst of pain and confusion, we have a hope grounded in the promises of God.
The Bible does not call us to be Pollyannas—illogically optimistic, able to overcome all adversity by virtue of our bubbly disposition and "can-do!" attitudes.
The Word of God calls us to a reasonable happiness
I used to work with a guy who was very thoughtful and reflective. If you asked him how he was, he would never simply answer,“Fine.” No, if you inquired about his day, you would have to wait out the long pause it took for him to carefully consider his answer. When his response did come, it was always oddly precise. My favorite answer I got from him was when I asked how he was, and after his characteristic pause, he answered, “I am reasonably happy.” It sounded like something a robot would say. What he meant, of course, was that he was happy, but not over-the-moon excited. That’s not what I mean by reasonably happy.
Christians are to be reasonably happy, but by that I mean our happiness and joy are logically rooted in something. Christian joy has a foundation deeper than our mood or personality. The Bible grounds our happiness in the sure promises of God, such that our positive outlook has a reasonable basis. Paul writes to the believers in Rome, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We find in this promise, and other passages like it, an anchor for the anxious soul, as well as a rebuke to evangelical Eeyores.
If the sovereign hand which upholds the universe is weaving even the pains of your life together for your good, what is there to complain about? What reasonable basis do you have for grumbling about bad things coming in threes or rolling your eyes with a here we go again at every slight inconvenience? If you’re a Christian, pessimism doesn’t make you a realist. Pessimism makes you a questioner of God’s character.
Christian pessimism is an oxymoron,
because pessimism is an act of unbelief
And the promises for believers go further than just this present life, they stretch into eternity.
Your best life is ahead of you. Sounds like something an optimist would say, doesn’t it? Pessimists tend to think things will only go from bad to worse. And it is true that things may get worse before they get better (John 16:33). But for those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, things will ultimately get better, much better. Listen to the apostle Paul as he encourages the Corinthians to not give up in the face of adversity:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16–18)
As children of the King, we have an inheritance waiting for us—an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."
And that treasure is kept in heaven, safe from loss or ruin (Matt. 6:19). It is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away (1 Pet 1:4). All of those things could happen to your earthly possessions. But in the ark of God's promises, your heavenly destiny floats safely atop the waters of life's greatest floods. So the Christian must never lose heart, even in the face of earthly loss.
Though we feel the pain and weep with the broken-hearted, we do not give in to cynicism
By the Lord's strength, we say with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15).
James says we are to consider it all joy when we face trials of any kind (James 1:2). That’s the kind of statement the pessimist rolls his eyes at. What a load of senseless positive-thinking nonsense! Right? Sounds like the kind of empty platitude that Mary Poppins would sing about. We instinctively ask, how can God expect me to be happy when I’m suffering? For the answer, look no further than the promises of God. See how James finishes that statement, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
We can rejoice in earthly trials because we know the outcome will be to our spiritual benefit
The sovereign God of the universe hasn't simply slipped up when new trials come your way. No, by these trials He is maturing you, preparing you for eternity—they are for your good.
A stiff upper lip and a chipper spirit aren’t enough to bolster the reality of families locked in their houses, awaiting the unknown. Cheap platitudes won’t produce deep joy for the trial-ridden. We need a stronger medicine. We need a firmer grounding. And God gives us grounds for joy in the face of trials with His promises. So, we must not despair in the face of pain, or descend into bitterness. It is by the promises of God that Christians alone have the sure-rooted optimism that enables them to face the deepest disappointment and the most profound pain with genuine joy.
Are you a believer possessing an eternal hope, yet finding that you can’t get through the day without complaining about something, assuming the worst, or expecting disaster? It's time to check what you really believe. Do you trust in His promises? You should, they are not empty. God has not given us the platitudes of worldly optimists. He has given us firm handholds for hope in "His precious and magnificent promises" (2 Pet. 1:4). And that should make us the most firmly optimistic people, no matter the storm.
[Editor's Note: This article has was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.]