Two of the common differences between people is the division between the optimists and the pessimists. Granted that there are probably many nuances to make, and we may often lean one way or the other depending on the topic or the time of day or whatever, nevertheless, we all know people who certainly exemplify one tendency or another. If the sun is shining, they can be perfectly dreadful Puddleglums, or on the other hand, if a hurricane has just leveled a city, they’d be telling jokes and making light of it.
Today I want to address optimists, those who are naturally fairly happy, at peace, and look on the bright side of things. And here’s the thing: the peace of God is not the same thing as being optimistic. The temptation whatever your personality is to measure your spiritual health by your emotions, by how you feel. And the pessimist is tempted to despair because she *feels* down and the optimist assumes everything must be fine since he *feels* good. But our standing before God doesn’t fluctuate with our emotions, our hormones, or our vitamin levels. Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus is our peace. This means that our standing before God is just as certain when we feel down as when we feel up. We are not any more pleasing to God when we feel happy, compared to when we are tired and worn out after a harrowing day of paperwork or diapers.
Now dour people need to be reminded of this too, but let me just say a few words to the optimists. One way to test your optimism is by asking yourself whether you ever feel down and if so, how down do you get? Sometimes optimists can be cheerful and happy 95% of the time, but that other 5% is a hellish depression bender. What you need to realize is that hellish depression bender didn’t come from nowhere. Your optimism is a cover, a crutch. It’s easier to be happy, to be jolly, to look up and so you do and you ignore the mold growing under the couch. You ignore the festering sores. You pretend nothing is wrong, everything is fine. But you aren’t really dealing with sin, you aren’t really walking in the light. You’re confusing that happy feeling with the joy of salvation, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.
Part of the problem with optimists is that they are often optimists out of fear of having to actually deal with their problems. They’d rather not clean up the messes. Maybe if they ignore it, it will just go away. And often friends and family cover for them, pick up the messes, and so they get the illusion that smiling and ignoring the problems does actually solve them. But meanwhile there’s a trail of frustrated, bitter friends in the wake (a post for another day).
But the reason optimists don’t want to deal with real problems is because they don’t know how to. And when you tell them that they need to deal with their problems, they often think that this means that you want them to feel sad. And then they tell you that they tried to feel sad for a while but it didn’t do anything for them. They feel better when they’re happy. So they’d rather just think happy thoughts and hope for the best. But “feeling sad” is not repentance. Feeling bad is not contrition for sin. In fact, part of the problem is that they don’t feel bad enough. They’ve dug up a few bummer feelings and tried to gin up some of that downer sauce, but that’s still pretending that emotions are somehow automatically spiritual. But while God certainly does want our emotions to serve Him, our emotions are not holy. God is holy.
So confession of sin, repentance, restitution — these are not primarily feelings, they are primarily actions. We repent in obedience to the command of Jesus, and sometimes we have to repent even when we don’t feel like repenting. Of course there’s a way to lie through your teeth, confessing sins that you fully intend to commit again later that night. But I’m not talking about that kind of brazen hypocrisy. I’m talking about the sins that you know are sins, the sins you know you need to kill, the sins that you are afraid to kill, but you know they are poison, you know they are lethal, you know they are wrapped around your neck and cinching up the knots. And that’s what I mean by not being sad enough. Do you see what your sin is? Do you see what your lust is? Do you see it for the ugly leech that it is, sucking away your life? When you see sin for what it is, it should make you sad, but more than that, it should also stir up a certain kind of righteous fury. You let that snake into your house? You let that demon into your marriage, into your family, into your church? Go get yourself a sword and kill the damn thing.
But see optimism is a false hope because it doesn’t rest in the victory of Christ over sin. Optimism is a false gospel because it offers hope by the power of the will, by the power of a smile, by the power of ignorance. But what a worthless gospel. No wonder optimists are some of the most hated people in the world. We don’t need optimists. We don’t need people who ignore evil, who ignore sin, who ignore their failures and hope for the best. And this doesn’t mean that we think everybody should be really sad. The point isn’t to make everybody’s life a real downer. The point is to deal with sin. The point is to face your sin down. To look the demons in the face, in the eyes, to feel their death grip on your soul, to know that they will kill you if something doesn’t change. And then in that desperate moment, cry out to God for mercy, for grace. Call out to your Savior, Jesus Christ. Call out to the One who suffered, bled, and died for your freedom, for your forgiveness. Because whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Christians aren’t optimists or pessimists. We may be naturally inclined in one direction or another, but the fact of the matter is that our sins are often a lot worse than we think and God’s grace is a lot better than we believe. Our feelings are not the peace of God because our feelings fluctuate, our feelings come and go, but the peace of God is Jesus our Savior who doesn’t have bad days and will never leave you or forsake you.