THE PESSIMIST AND THE OPTIMIST
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sam Levenson told of how his father took the 6 children, chained hand to hand, through a museum. Suddenly, in irritation at the slowness of their progress, he said, "Look kids, if you're gonna stop and look at everything, you ain't gonna see nothin." Anyone who has been in a large museum can understand the paradox. When my father-in-law and I had only a few hours to get through all the buildings in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., we had to practically run. We felt the full force of the fatherly wisdom, and we knew we couldn't stop to see everything, or we wouldn't have seen anything.
The Bible is even more vast in its treasures than any museum, and we don't have an infinite amount of time to examine them, and so this truth applies to our study of the Bible. Grace and peace are two of the greatest treasures that can be found in the Word of God, but we are not going to stop and look at them now. We are going right to verse 4 which is an exciting verse because it gives us a view of life from Paul's perspective. This verse shows us that the Christian view of life is a paradox, for it is both pessimistic and optimistic. The Christian can combined these two opposites in his mind at the same time. We want to examine them one at a time to see how this can be so. First let's look at Paul's-
Paul refers to this present evil world, or this present evil age. The Greek word is aeon, and it refers to the world as viewed from the standpoint of time and change. It is this present transitory era. It is present as distinct from the original creation, and the final state of things. The present world is disordered, and not the kind of world that was, or will be.
Keep in mind that Paul was talking about the first century. It is foolish to talk about the good old days of the church. The church never did live in good days, and never has, for the present evil age covers all days from Paul's time to ours. If you wish you would have lived in Paul's day, you will only be wishing yourself back to an evil age. If men could travel back in time, no matter where they stopped, they would still in be the present evil age where Satan reigns in the hearts and minds of rebel men.
That sounds like kind of pessimistic view of life, and the reason it sounds that way is because it is. Every generation of men have added another chapter to the history of evil.
My granddad viewing earth's worn cogs,
Said things are going to the dogs;
His granddad in his house of logs
Swore things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in his old skin togs
Said things were going to the dogs.
There is no way to get back to the good old days, because they are nowhere back there. The good days are all out ahead, for the best is always yet to be for the believer. Paul was a positive thinker, but he was also a realist. You do not have deny the reality of evil to be an optimist. Christian Science has tried that road, and the latest statistics tell us they are failing. You cannot deny the reality of this present evil world and fool most people any of the time. Evil is real, and the Christian who is wise and honest and not pretend it isn't so.
Paul believed in evil and in its power. He suffered much pain and sorrow because of the opposition of men, and that was not even the worst of it. The real battle was not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual forces of evil. Paul warned believers of many dangers of life, and he urged them to put on the whole armor of God. The Christian does not dwell in a paradise, but on a battlefield. In any war there are casualties on both sides, and Christians do suffer in the battle of light against darkness. The point I am getting at is that the Christian does have a legitimate pessimistic perspective. It is a present evil world, and all around us the forces of evil are active, and they often succeed in making life miserable for the children of God.
It was Paul's honest awareness of the reality of evil that made him so concerned about his converts. He was writing this very letter because of the threat of evil to destroy the fruit of the Gospel. In chapter 6 he urges them to bare one another's burdens, and to rescue the fallen brother. This implies that we live in a present evil world where the battle never ceases. Paul saw all of the reality of life's evil, and he experienced much of it against himself, but he never became a sour pessimistic skeptic like so many who have suffered. For example, Mark Twain summed up human experience in these pathetic words.
"A myriad men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle
for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble
for mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them;
infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them. At
length ambition is dead; pride is dead; longing for release
is in their place. Death comes at last-the only unpoisoned
gift earth ever had for them-and they vanish from a world
where they were of no consequence."
History is filled with men who were so captivated by the reality of evil that they could not see beyond it. Out of their dark and dismal perspective came philosophies that have multiplied the world's miseries. Schopenhaur and Neitzsche were so pessimistic that had they been God they would have drown the world and done it up right with no ark. Their pessimistic views of life produced men like Hitler who could feel that might is right, and its every man for himself. When you see only the power of evil, you submit to that power, and you become yourself and instrument of evil. This leads to either self-destruction, or the destruction of others. Dorothy Parker expressed the minds of many pessimists in poetry.
There's little in taking or giving,
There's little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living,
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle and spare is
The gain of one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis
And love is a permanent flop.
And work is the province of cattle
And rest's for a clam in the shell,
So I'm thinking of throwing the battle-
Will you kindly direct me to hell?
It is not likely that a believer would fall so low as this, but it is possible for a believer to get so entangled with the pessimistic view of life that he become a hindrance rather than a help. It is possible for a Christian to be part of the problem instead of part of the answer. Stewart Hamblen, after his conversion to Christ, said that his greatest stumbling block was not his old cronies out in the world, but the skeptical Christians waiting and watching for him to stumble. He said, "Nothing in the world is more beautiful than a new Christian before he has gotten around some old Christians." Hamblen is himself in danger here of getting overly pessimistic. Not all old Christians are a hindrance as he implies. Pessimism is a real and legitimate perspective, but unless it is balanced by a strong Christian optimism, it becomes a terrible perversion in the Christian life. We need to look at how Paul balanced his pessimism concerning the present evil world with a positive optimism concerning deliverance from it.
II. PAUL'S OPTIMISM.
Paul says in this first verse that it is possible to experience the grace of God and enjoy peace, even in this present evil world because Jesus gave Himself for our sin to deliver us from it. This doctrine of deliverance is what brings the sun of optimism into this dark world. The deliverance is just as real as the sin. The pessimist is right, but so is the optimist, and that is why the Christian with the total view is both. If the Christian is looking at the present evil world, he must naturally face the facts and be skeptical about man's schemes to bring about a paradise. He knows the sinful nature of man will corrupt every ideal that humanism can create.
On the other hand, when the Christian looks at the cross, and sees what Christ has done for man's sin he is an incurable optimist. He recognizes that every man can attain perfection and paradise in Christ. There is an answer, and there is a way out. Deliverance is possible from this present evil world, for that is what the Gospel is all about.
Shopenhour was a terrible pessimist, and he said if he could conduct the optimists through the hospitals, prisons, and battlefields of the world they would soon lose their optimism. He knew of the reality of evil, but what he didn't know was the reality of deliverance from evil. Christian optimist like Paul are not unaware of the tragedy and misery in the world. On the contrary, they are the ones who are doing something about it, for they know something can be done.
The pessimist only complains in despair and adds to the darkness, but the Christian optimist brings light into the darkness. It has been Christian optimists that have done more to relieve human misery around the world than anyone else. They have labored in the realm of medical missions, prison reform, aid to orphans, widows, and the handicapped. The heroes of history have been optimists who did not hide their head in the sand and deny evil, but who looked it square in the face, and by the grace of God brought deliverance.
Jesus entered this vale of tears to die for the sins of man, and to offer a way out of all the evils of this present world. In Luke 4:18 Jesus read a prophecy from Isaiah that He said He came to fulfill. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed."
This present evil world is heading toward a day when the kingdoms of this world shall be the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, even in the midst of evil the Christian is an optimist because he has a message of hope and victory to offer the world. Sin has been conquered, and those who trust in Christ will be delivered from this present evil world.
Paul suffered as much as any man because of the sin and folly of man. He spent much time in the darkness of a dungeon because he sought to spread the message of light. It was indeed a present evil world for Paul, but he could still sing in the dungeon because he was an optimist.
Despite the ancient evil;
Despite the jaws of darkness;
Despite the fear of death,
Rage, O world, snarl and spring:
Calm and confident,
Here I stand and sing.
Paul would not allow the reality of evil to rob him of his joy in the reality of deliverance from evil. Too often the Christian allows the negatives of life to get his goat. That expression comes from a practice of owners of high-strung race horses. They kept a goat in the stall with these sensitive horses because the very presence of the calm and relaxed goat help the horse to relax. On the day before a very important race a rival would steal another owner's goat. This would make the horse nervous so it would not run at its best. Someone got his goat. The world gets our goat when it so overwhelms us with the reality that it is a present evil world. We often take our eyes off Christ, and we forget that in Him we can have peace and joy, for He has overcome the world. We must always keep the whole picture in mind so we can always be both pessimists and optimists.