After Church – On Eternal Optimism


Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.

G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant

I am an eternal optimist.

That might sound strange, coming from a conservative Christian; after all, wouldn’t you expect a belief in the sinfulness of mankind to provoke a pessimistic worldview? Unfortunately, that’s looking at the situation in the exact wrong way.

A pessimist sees the world for “what it is” – or, at least, what he perceives it to be. What he/she sees disgusts him, yet this remains the status quo. The pessimist rails against the bad, which we might call “everything”, in a word. No wonder he cannot change anything, for everything’s already bad. Where lies the motivation for changing what is already bad than to let it continue on its course.

An optimist chooses to love things as they are, in spite of their faults. In God’s creation, there is much to love for God created everything good. If you don’t believe that, then I’d like to point to Genesis 1:

31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

It only appends “very good” to the creation of humanity. But does that fit with our experience? Let’s be honest: we continually deal with other humans as problems more than anything else in our daily lives. We look at the world through our eyes, and rarely try to make a vicarious attempt to see what they see, feel what they feel. Perhaps we would find ourselves with more empathy then (especially in regards to the anonymous blob of the Internet). Perhaps that empathy would lead us to action.

Yet, I doubt this. Knowing other people means knowing their faults; knowing their faults, and further your inability to correct said faults, leads down the spiral. That goes for yourself too! And that especially goes for me! I am, at times, a rational thinker…but only in the things that I want to think rationally. Rationality lets me rationalize; logic provides me with justifications. Directed towards positive ends, this appears all well and good, but we know better than that. We tend towards evil ends with good things, and even vice versa.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

So we’re bad, but we are also good at the same time. We can use our lives for good or evil, and we will inevitably do both without knowing whether our actions tend for or against either. How will any one action affect people in the future? We cannot know, at least in terms of certainty. That would seem reason enough to become a pessimist, to say that it’s all bad and nothing’s worth improving. That, to me, is the subtle whisper of our generation. Everything’s run wrong, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Christians do not act like Christ, so how does the Church recover? Pessimism turns us all into conservatives.

Optimism turns us into revolutionaries. The earth is good! God created it; the Creator let us live here, in spite of our faults. It does make you wonder why God never gave up, don’t you think? Why do the prophets talk of the people, the injustices, and the evils? So that we may see the good. We are all worth loving, and we are all worth the effort. Even the broken socials structures, the constant oppression, and the overbearing weight of sin means nothing by comparison. We undervalue the good in light of the overwhelming bad; we only see darkness where God sees light. We do not rail against hopelessness, but we struggle to see things as they are: good. We must act like Christ to see the good in all.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:9b-10)

We do not often take heed of the prophets, those gloriously joyful revolutionaries who saw damnable circumstances yet remained hopeful for the future through exile and death. We often ignore Paul, whose praise and worship in prisons and horrific extenuating circumstances made men wonder to what Unknown God he ascribed. They lived in a desperate, even seemingly suicidal attempt to convince everyone how good they really were – not by their own selves, but because God made them good (in two ways, of course, for you theological pedants).

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God… (John 1:12)

If God can see the goodness, why can’t you? Humanity delights in calling things bad, so that we may call our pet desires “good” by comparison. That might be true of critical enterprises, but not of daily life. I find new wonders every day. I love discovering things. I love the things that I love finding out about the things I didn’t know about, people I don’t know anything about. And knowing about those things inspires a fierce loyalty within me. I want other people to know these things. I want them to open their minds to the wonder of Creation, both primary and sub-created in the human imagination.

Everything excites me. Yes, there’s negative emotions that filter in, but they remain tiny instances of an attitude towards life. Love without compromise, live without regrets, for sons and daughters of God must look with eschatological optimism towards the future of all. How else could we represent God better than by living well, loving all, and changing what we love for the better?

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.(1 Corinthians 10:31)

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.