Optimism is not Hope

Ballon over water

The world is full of pessimists, people who see little chance for a light at the end of our world’s dark tunnel. In such an atmosphere, the optimist stands out as a voice for possibility in the midst of despair. He is likely to be hailed as a visionary or denounced as a romantic. While he is more useful than the despairing pessimist, they both suffer from a similar problem: their viewpoints are not dependent on God’s revelation. They are human responses to the human situation without any input from the God who rules over history.  As a result, they are alike unhelpful. Optimism can seem like hope, but it lacks a concrete basis. It can steer men forward for a while, but they will eventually ask: “How can we even be certain?”

On the contrary, hope – Christian hope – is an expectation of future good based on God’s promise and his redemptive work in history. It is optimism, with certainty, that truth will prevail at last; that the universe, broken and corrupted by sin, will be renewed at the return of Christ; that our loved ones, who died in Christ, are not really dead but only asleep; that HIV and cancer will not have the last word; and that God’s righteous rule, which the saints have prayed for throughout history, will be finally realized.

The great theologian, J.I. Packer, sums it up beautifully:

“Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God, as when the Anglican burial service inters the corpse ‘in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.” 

This is truth we can hope in.


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