“Surely a son considers his father a fool, a daughter opposes her mother, and a daughter-in-law is against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. But I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will stand up; though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you consider yourself more of an optimist or a pessimist? Do you respond to the circumstances you are in by looking for the best explanation possible, or the worst? Now, this may be the point at which you’re expecting I’ll start explaining why you should be an optimist. Natural pessimists are already gearing up to explain why they’re not really negative, they’re just realistic. But I’m not going there. In fact, you can be optimistic and still wrong. As followers of Jesus, we are not called to be optimists. We are called to be a people of hope. That’s different.
This week in our Advent journey, we are talking about hope. We touched on false understandings of hope a bit yesterday, but let’s dig in to one in particular just a bit more this morning. Too often, hope is understood to be little more than wishful thinking or mere optimism. Yet while there are some similarities between Biblical hope and basic optimism, the two are not the same.
Optimism is rooted in circumstances. It is the belief that our future circumstances will be better than our present ones. Similarly, it is the belief that the bad circumstances we are in will turn out good in the end. Now, described just like that, optimism and Biblical hope seem to be awfully similar. After all, when followers of Jesus have hope, aren’t we just believing our future circumstances will be better than our present ones? Aren’t we being driven by ideas like Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 that everything works out good when we love God enough?
For starters, I offer a butchered interpretation of Romans 8:28 there, and I did it on purpose. That’s not at all what Paul actually said, but it is how it is most commonly (mis)understood and quoted. And, while we are committing ourselves to the notion that our future circumstances will be better when we have hope, we’re thinking all the way down the road to the final arrival of God’s kingdom. We aren’t expecting–nor do the New Testament writers give us any leave to do otherwise–any of our circumstances between now and then to be better than they are. In fact, we full anticipate they could get worse. A lot worse.
The prophet Micah understood this. Look at the situation he describes here. He describes Israel as a place where families were in crisis. The basic family structures that had held the nation together, which are the glue of any nation, were crumbling. Families were falling apart and when that starts to happen, the rest of the society gradually follows. And, when you keep reading, he doesn’t seem to hold out any real confidence that things are going to get better any time soon. Yet the words that immediately follow this bleak description of the state of his nation are filled to the brim with hope and confidence in God. He may be down and his own situation may be awful–did you catch his acknowledgement of his own personal fall?–but his enemies shouldn’t gain any confidence in that. He’s going to get up again.
Why? Why does he express such confidence? Is it because he expects things to get better soon? Read these verses again. There’s nothing in the text here that would suggest such a belief on his part. He holds out exactly no belief that things are going to get better. Instead, what does he actually say? Read it closely. He says he is going to trust in the Lord anyway. He will look to the Lord. He will wait on Him. He is confident the Lord will hear him. He will get back up again when he falls.
Okay, but what is this? It is hope. This is a picture of Biblical hope. Micah isn’t moving forward because of some imagined vision of a better tomorrow. He doesn’t have any evidence that any of his tomorrows are going to be better than his today. He doesn’t know and there’s no reason to try and work up some personal fantasy of such a state of affairs to get him through today.
You see, this is the problem with the basic optimism we are often encouraged to adopt today as if it were hope. It’s not. Optimism works by imagining a future that’s better than the present. This is supposed to give us a better attitude about our hard today. Tomorrow might be better. But then, what if it’s not. And what if the next day isn’t either? Or the day after that? Or the day after that? Optimism works for a little while, but if you don’t see some kind of a return on your emotional investment, eventually your capital dries up and you’re left with nothing. This is where despair swoops in and covers us like a thick, heavy blanket.
Biblical hope is different. Biblical hope acknowledges the present is hard. It embraces the fact that tomorrow might be hard too. In fact, all of our tomorrows might be hard right up to the point that we close our eyes on this life. Some imagined confidence in a brighter tomorrow isn’t what is driving us forward. Instead, our confidence is in a God who is good and who will be good both today and tomorrow and every day thereafter. We trust that He will show us glimpses of His goodness even in the midst of our hard circumstances, and that one day, when His kingdom comes, He will richly reward our willingness to keep doing life His way in spite of circumstances that insist we’re absolutely wrong to do so. When it comes to Biblical hope, circumstances don’t matter; God does.
So, whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, may you be a person of hope. May you be a person who relies, not on a potentially brighter tomorrow, but on a God who is good and who will one day restore all things. He sent His Son to earth as a guarantee of His intentions to do just that. When you come to know Him, hope becomes natural. Choose Him and become a person of hope.