by Rod D. Martin
October 13, 2014
I am a boundless, if realistic, optimist.
What do I mean by that?
First, I am certainly not a pessimist. To be a pessimist requires rejecting the sovereignty of God, His promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, and His loving, intensely personal fatherhood toward those redeemed and adopted by His only begotten Son. To be a pessimist simply is not consistent with the Christian faith, or more precisely, with faith in the God of the Bible. Indeed, if the Bible consisted of nothing more than the barest Gospel message, that bliss alone would not allow for anything but joy and hope.
For a Christian to be a pessimist is a deep contradiction. It is possible, just as it is possible for a Christian to be an adulterer or a thief. But in being a pessimist, he might as well be those other things, because he is denying Christ with every such thought. I speak not of the fear or doubt that comes from immediate circumstances: concern for a sick child, or terror at the explosion of a bomb. Rather I speak of the consistent gloominess conventionally thought of as pessimism, pessimism in the sense of a pervading persistent mode of thought. This simply is not Christian.
Even if I were not a Christian, though, it would be hard to sustain pessimism. Less than two centuries ago the world lived in squalor, darkness, and the ubiquitous lack of the most basic hygiene or health care. Today, most of the diseases that once terrorized us are gone, infant mortality — and mothers dying in childbirth — are all but a thing of the past, and we command all the world’s knowledge at the touch of a screen that we hold in our hands. The world grows smaller daily, and however grim ISIS may be, it is no Soviet Empire, no Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo.
Yes, Ebola may kill us all, but more likely, we will contain it and cure it. Scramjets will let us fly point-to-point anywhere on Earth in two hours flat, flattening and shrinking our world in the process. Socialists will continue their attempts to deceive and enslave, but technology will empower the individual in an unstoppable manner that will leave his shackles behind. Access to the resources of space will usher in a new golden age, and just as a billion people have been lifted from poverty in the last 20 years by capitalism, we will largely eradicate material poverty before this century’s end.
I said I was an optimist.
But I am relentlessly optimistic because I am a student of history. The forces unleashed by a growing understanding of free market economics and the unbounded expansion of human knowledge and physical reach are not the sorts of genies that go willingly back into their bottle. I don’t wistfully dream of space ships. I look at the incentives driving smart, tireless men to build them, and reason and act accordingly.
This is not the limit of my realism though. As we began with theology let us end with it. I am a realist in my optimism because while I know God is sovereign and God is good, I know man is anything but. Man is fallen. Man is sinful. All men, all women, always. If they are good it is only by grace, and even with grace they disappoint.
Understanding that is a liberation. Trusting Christ’s promises, one may live arms wide open: there is no need for dread. But knowing that every person will inevitably fail you, and most will do it intentionally and with malice aforethought, it is easy to prepare against that certainly. Indeed, it is easy to get over what otherwise might be grave hurts, not merely because the Lord will make all things right and new, but because you never had unrealistic expectations of people in the first place. And as such, you can love them along, help them grow, and lead them toward the better angels of God’s, if not quite their, natures.
As pessimism is rooted in a lack of faith, optimism is best moored to it. You can be an optimist without Christ, and you probably should be. But you can only truly find peace with Him.