Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hope Versus Optimism

On his Facebook page, the highly talented and perceptive Christian author Jim Belcher wrote the following on 12/5/2009:
"Optimism is a matter optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don't want to see. Hope, on the other hand, is a Christian virtue. It is the unblinking acknowledgment of all that militates against hope, and the unrelenting refusal to despair." Richard John Neuhaus (via Scotty Smith).
Here's the comment I left in response to that post from Jim:
Too many modern churches are what I like to describe as "happy face churches," in which folks think the best solution to serious problems is to pretend they don't exist, and to hope that doing so causes them to go away. ("Positive confession" churches are especially prone to this kind of thing.) To me, that sounds more like Neuhaus' definition of optimism than his definition of hope.

The Bible commands Christians to bear one another's burdens. But I can attest from painful personal experiences that it's next to impossible to find anyone in a "happy face church" who will even allow one to tell him or her what one's burdens are in the first place. Pastors are sometimes the worst offenders, because they want to project an image of success, and the honesty of some believers can threaten that image.

How people are supposed to bear burdens when they're unaware of the nature of those burdens is anyone's guess. Meaningful problem resolution and healing is almost possible in such a superficial, uncaring environment.

Far fewer Christians would yield to despair if we had far more hopeful Christians (who therefore offered genuine help to hurting believers) and far fewer optimistic, heads-in-the-sand Christians.

A related and time-relevant note: I've heard that more people commit or attempt suicide during the Christmas season than during any other time of the year. Maybe what exacerbates their despair is their increased awareness of the huge discrepancy between what the church is and what it should be.
NOTE: Jim Belcher is also pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church ( in Newport Beach, California.

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