Being Hopeful Over Optimistic on Future Faith

comment
calendarApril 10, 2018

The other day a friend accused me of optimism. This didn’t sit well. We were talking (ponderously) about the future of religion, and I said the church will outlast every dire trend. The church rose against all odds from the start, stirred to life by Jesus’ resurrection—an impossibility that nevertheless happened. Predictions about the terminal decline of faith never pan out.

My friend said that sounds too optimistic. I protested: It’s not optimism but hope. Optimism looks on the bright side, expecting every happy outcome, sometimes despite evidence. Hope is an attitude about the long haul: God will prevail no matter how much we mess it up it the meantime.

Optimism has been linked to health benefits. Optimists are certainly more fun than glum fatalists. But a ginned-up optimism can be dangerous form of wishful thinking, a misreading of human nature. In 2007, upbeat consumerism ignored the toxic facts of housing bubbles and subprime mortgages. The Great Recession inexcusably resulted.

We’re optimistic that technology will solve our problems. But tech’s revolutionaries underestimated the web’s dark side and disinformation. Utopian dreams relied on a frictionless, one-dimensional view of complex human nature. Now we’re facing the consequences, with A. I. on the march.

Hope makes room for a skeptical view of human conduct—a doctrine of sin—while expecting the cosmic story eventually to turn out right. It’s not a passive waiting game. “Active” hope, says eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, draws on our inner strengths and power of choice. We have a say in personal change and social reform. Active hope doesn’t depend on optimism. It admits the painful brokenness of the times. But it shows a “readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose,” she says with co-author Chris Johnstone in “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.”

In Christian terms, these strengths are gifts of God. They accompany people into the risky, unknown, providential future. “God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain,” said Dr. King. Divine messages filter into the real world, the political world, where the Resurrection happened if it happened at all. Because of the risen Jesus, hope believes God will ultimately heal creation. This belief has the power to dissipate anxiety and unleash creativity to get on with the work—a converted spirit, a social gospel, with help for despair.

Is that hopelessly optimistic? To me it’s an enduring hope.

By Ray Waddle
The Tennessean
April 7, 2018

Leave a Reply