A Happy Faith
Allow me to make a bold suggestion. I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic. Of course, you might then assume that my view of Christian optimism is rooted in my own eschatological perspective, particularly the belief that I am postmillennial – that I believe things are going to get better before Christ’s return, not worse. If you assumed that, however, you would be wrong. I’m not postmillennial. In fact - putting all my cards on the table - I’m premillennial. So how does a premillennial Christian, with a strong view of the depravity of humanity become strongly convinced that optimism is intimately connected with genuine faith, and that we are, in fact, holding to a sub-Christian view of the world when we walk around with pessimism as our default posture? Trying to maintain transparency here, it should be noted that I am naturally an optimist. I see the glass half-full, as the saying goes. Even still, however, while I am inclined toward optimism, I do believe there is something about our faith that necessitates an optimistic view from the mature believer. Consider these four realities.
1. Our belief in the sovereignty of God evokes great optimism.
Psalm 24:1, The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord
We serve a sovereign God. By definition this means that God is over all things – both natural and supernatural. This confidence that God is sovereign and authoritative over all things gives me great confidence that, even when life seems to be spiraling a bit, God has not lifted his hands off the wheel. In the end of Job, we are reminded that God has told even the oceans, You may come this far, but no farther. Not only do the oceans obey his command, though, in Job we see that Satan himself obeys the same command that God has given to the oceans.
Over and over in Job Satan requests to wreak havoc on Job, and God gives him clear permission, but permission with clear restrictions. Amazingly enough, Satan does exactly what God tells him to do. The lesson here is unmistakable, and so important. Satan is powerful, but in the end he is little more than a dog on God's leash. God is in control. Satan is not.
2. Our belief in the victory of God promises great optimism.
1 Corinthians 15:57, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
As Christians living in the 21st century, we have the benefit of theological hindsight. Looking backwards to Christ's life, death, burial and resurrection, we can see his destruction of sin, death and the grave. Not only that, but 1 Corinthians reminds us that we share in that victory. Obviously this does not remove the pain of challenging circumstances, nor the danger of sin, but it does mean that in the midst of the most debilitating of moments - can you imagine anything worse than God's moment as his son was murdered on the cross - that in these moments, God is yet victorious and his purposes are being accomplished. Acts 4 reminds us of this.
Acts 4:27-28, For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.
The son of God was murdered, and yet even then the death of Christ was accomplishing God's long-before-determined-plan to redeem humanity. Christians should walk with optimistic confidence that even our worst moments are able to be used for God's redemptive work.
3. Our belief in the grace of God fosters great optimism.
Colossians 2:14, He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.
This is grace. On the cross of Jesus lies hanging the tattered remnants of my sin. As I contemplate the depths of my sin, the depths of God's grace astonishes me more and more. Paul understood this too, of course. He called himself the "chief of all sinners" at one point. The closer he walked with Christ, the more acutely aware he was of his own sin. The more he was aware of his own sin, the more alive God's grace became to him. We are told in Luke 7 that those who have been forgiven much, are those who love much. Implicit within our experience of grace is the transformation of our lives from self-focused to being people of deep love, affection and hope for others. What's more, this certain belief in God's grace gives us great confidence that no one is too far away from God that God cannot make them new. This truth gives us great hope that even the people who appear most evil are capable of being transformed through God's grace. Once again, optimism must remain.
4. Our belief in the kingdom of God displays great optimism.
Matthew 4:23, Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Jesus came, inaugurating his kingdom and he will one day return and culminate that kingdom. The coming of the kingdom, as he described it in Matthew, was to bring the rule and reign of God in very real and present ways. We see spots of this through Christians and churches today, but we see this kingdom as through a dark glass. Someday Christ is going to return and that eternal kingdom will be fully established and there will no longer be pretenders trying to claw at his throne. Until that time, however, we can look across Christendom and see remnants - pictures - of that kingdom being displayed for us. These momentary glimpses remind us that Christ is returning and bringing a better day with him. This is what passages like Jeremiah 29, and the entire book of Revelation, are meant to accomplish. They are a reminder to a church who is in danger of giving up - of no longer optimistically viewing the world and our collective future - to stay the course, and believe that the best is yet to come.
As I look across contemporary Christianity I see a lot of Christians who seem to feed off a pessimistic view of life and even the future. Too many seem to prey on that, understanding that they can even monetize that pessimism, and have been quite successful in doing so. I am convinced that should not be for the mature Christian. Instead, let us be confident in God's sovereignty, his victory, his grace and his kingdom, and why don't we march forward, together, as an optimistic body? Why don't we assume our position as those who have received God's grace, are dispensing the message of that grace, and who confidently believe the world can be a recipient of that grace? I really believe that if our posture changed to reflect that view, this optimistic church would be a strong and compelling apologetic for the hopefulness of God's grace and his kingdom.