Sunday, May 27, 2007

Positively Optimistic

by Rick Liggin

By definition, a "pessimist" is one who is in the habit of or (at least) tends to "expect the worst" (Webster's, p. 1063); he tends to see everything in a negative light. A "cynic" is one who believes "that people are motivated in all their actions by selfishness" (Ibid, p. 353); he tends to "deny the sincerity of people's motives and actions," and so he denies "the value of living" (Ibid). A "fatalist" is one who believes "that all events are determined by fate and are hence inevitable" (Ibid, p. 509).

Obviously, all three of these personality traits are negative, and any individual possessing even one of them is bound to be a negative person. But when you have a group that includes people with all three of these traits (a group that includes a cynic, a fatalist, and a pessimist) or (even worse) when you have one person who is characterized by all three (he is a pessimistic, fatalistic cynic), watch out! You surely have a recipe for disaster!

Such negative people not only hurt themselves, but also those around them. They're especially a menace to any team effort. Their negativity tends to break the spirit of those trying to press forward and accomplish something good. The fatalist hurts the group by injecting the idea that: "It's no use to try; you can't change things anyway!" The pessimist hurts the group by seeing everything in the most negative way possible--"We've tried that before and it didn't work" or "that's too hard; we'll never be able to do that!" And the cynic hurts the group by questioning the motives of everyone else--"You're just trying to get your own way" or "you're just trying to put yourself forward!" Indeed, such negative people can really "throw cold water" on almost any project and break down team efforts to work together.

Now, it ought to be obvious that such negativity cannot characterize Christians. A Christian cannot be a fatalist, since all events are not determined merely by fate, and therefore are not simply "inevitable." God--not fate--controls our world (Jas. 4:15), and He has given men the power to make choices that can change the course of events. The Christian also cannot be a cynic, because cynicism--thinking the worst of everyone else--is just unloving. The New Testament teaches that love "believes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and so it always believes the best about others--especially about other Christians. And Christians most assuredly have no reason to be pessimistic. Because we love God and seek to serve Him, we have every reason to believe--to "know that God causes all things to work together for good" (Rom. 8:28). And "if God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

In contrast to being so negative, the Christian is supposed to be an optimist! "Optimism" is exactly the opposite of cynicism and fatalistic pessimism. "Optimism" is defined as "the tendency to take the most hopeful or cheerful view of matters, or to expect the best outcome"; it is the "practice of looking on the bright side of things" (Webster's, p. 999). Such a positive attitude ought certainly to characterize us as Christians. In fact, as Christians, we are to be so optimistic that we can even face the difficult trials of this life with a positive, joyful attitude--"knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (Jas. 1:2-3; cf. Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Let me ask you: are you a positive, upbeat kind of person who always tries to look on the bright side of things, or are you one of those negative pessimists who tends to only see the dark side? In local churches, as we try to work together to achieve something good in the cause of Christ, we need positive people--people with an optimistic vision for the future. We don't need negative old "sticks in the mud" who tend to "throw cold water" on all our efforts. If God is for us, who can be against us? Surely He can--and will--cause all things to work together for good. Vision for the future requires us to be positively optimistic.

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