A Christian Understanding of Optimism
Second Article of Two on Optimism Part of the Series on Positive Psychology
In my previous article on optimism, I discussed the accepted definitions of optimism and pessimism found in the field of psychology, and especially in positive psychology. The basic idea behind these concepts has less to do with whether we are hopeful or gloomy, and more to do with our beliefs. They challenge us to confront who we believe is responsible for our success or failure, and whether trying again is worth it or not.
In order to consider the concept of optimism from a Christian perspective, we need to look at what the Bible says about it. This article therefore looks at the biblical approach to optimism. But to do this, it is important to make a jump from a secular or scientific philosophical foundation to one of faith.
What Does the Bible Say about Optimism?
The case for optimism in the Bible hinges on our definition of success and failure. As Christians, we do not put our hope in our achievements, but in faith. Hope is not to be found in mental durability, but rather in God. We are not measured according to our ventures and our efforts, for true success is found in obedience to God. “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).
Nevertheless, we can certainly be pessimistic about our walk of faith. What’s more, we have an enemy who tries to assure us that we have messed up, that we will mess up, and that we are mess-ups. But Jesus says that there is no longer any condemnation. Our believing in and receiving of the sanctifying Holy Spirit is about truly engaging optimism. Paul takes this and embodies spiritual optimism when he says in 1 Corinthians 4:3 that he doesn’t care about being judged by man, but only God: “…I do not even judge myself.” Paul does not listen to the voices that say he should see failure as something internal or global.
Optimism is about Spiritual Perception
My favorite Bible passage on positivity and optimism is Matthew 6:22:
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
The Jewish idiom for an unhealthy eye is having an ‘evil eye,’ which meant being stingy. It involved perceiving scarcity in life and acting out of fear and selfishness. To speak of the eye being filled with light is to speak of a way of perceiving the world. It is about what events we pay attention to, and what power we attribute to them. Spiritual optimism is therefore about seeing the hand of the Lord as always providing for us and protecting us. It is about knowing that we are never alone, and that we need not fear because our God is a good Father.
An Exercise to Increase Optimism
As an exercise to increase optimism, try “One door closes, one door opens.” Simply recall three situations in which a door was closed to you at an important moment of your life – and then recall the door that was opened as a result. Our lives don’t end when failure or disappointment befalls us. Indeed, the fact is that we often make the best of things, or even find ourselves in a better situation than we had hoped for as a result of hardship. Don’t be afraid that optimism will make you vulnerable to hardship – in fact, it is an act of health. Both research and the Word agree that deciding how we think about life is more important than the actual outcomes and results.
Be filled with light.
Christian Counseling to Develop Optimism
As a Christian counselor, it is my pleasure to join with clients and help them to see the ways they have already overcome in life, and how God has uniquely shaped them – both to do great things and to experience joy and goodness in their lives and relationships.
“Another Hazel Eye,” courtesy of Elliot Bennett, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)