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I’ve always wanted to be an optimist because they are fun to be around. Instead I became a Christian. Which is an optimist but with good reasons. If I were not a Christian, I would be utterly unbearable.
So the difference between an optimist and a Christian is that the Christian has faith in what God will do while an optimist has faith in, well, I don’t know. Still, the optimist will do better in life than the pessimist just because positive expectation, even when illegitimate, is closer in character to faith than despair is. It aligns with what is most deeply true about the universe, so that even as borrowed capital it works pretty well.
The proof is that our inventors are mainly optimists. Thomas Edison looked at his flops as successes in eliminating unworkable solutions. He famously said after creating a commercially viable lightbulb: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” I might add that optimists make more money and have less dementia than pessimists.
Our inventors are mainly optimists. Thomas Edison looked at his flops as successes in eliminating unworkable solutions.
Your mother once told you about the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise won the race because he was an optimist. People say it’s because he was persistent, but he wouldn’t have been persistent if he hadn’t been optimistic first. Optimism precedes perseverance. The Apostle Paul observes that dynamic when saying that we have faith and love “because of the hope” (Colossians 1:5). No hope, no reason to get out of bed.
The pessimist’s problem is all in his eye. His eye is defective. He sees everything the same shade of blah, like the Dwarfs in The Last Battle. “Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip.”
“The eye is the lamp of the body.” That is, all experience is filtered through it. “So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).
Christians who are not by nature optimists may have to work a little at becoming so. Here is how you do that—by a conscious, constant cultivation of thanksgiving. This works magic in changing a bad “eye” to a clear eye, and you will be astounded at how much better the world looks. Try it and you will sit before a blank sheet of paper and complain that you have nothing good to put on your list, and then you will come up with 25.
When you get better at it, you will not only have the good things on your thanksgiving list but the bad things and disappointments too. For you will start to see how these bad things were the very ones God used to mature you. I hate to think of what my life would be now if I had been cursed with only pleasant things.
George Müller (1805-1898) is one of the biggest optimists I know of. That crazy guy decided to distribute tracts and to witness among the Jews in London, and he reports, “I had the honor of being reproached and ill-treated for the name of Jesus” (The Autobiography of George Müller). Must be a blessing in there somewhere, right? That’s like the Apostle Paul saying, “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9).
Come again? If there are “many adversaries,” how does he see it as a “wide door for effective work”?
That’s how an optimist sees.