Faith Matters: Optimism vs. Hope


By Rev. Eric M. Williams

I am by nature an optimistic person with an optimistic view of human nature. I hope for the best in life and in other people. Recently, that has been a pretty tough view to sustain. We have been inundated with stories about people in all walks of life acting badly: a pedophile at Penn State, bankers who engaged in price fixing on an epic scale, other bankers who knowingly laundered money for drug lords and terrorists, and now another terrible, senseless, random shooting.

These stories cause us to wonder: where is God in all of this? Is faith just wishful thinking? Is this what the world is really like? They erode our sense of the goodness of human nature and of the world. But if we examine the roots of our faith, if we turn back to the Holy Scriptures, we are led to the inescapable conclusion that our optimism is based on an illusion, not reality.

The Bible tells us not that we should be optimistic, but rather that we should be hopeful. Optimism is based on a false confidence about the goodness of humanity. Hope is based in the reality of the goodness of God. The story of the Bible is a story of human selfishness, violence and evil. But it is also a story of God’s patient attempts to redeem us, restore us and reconcile us to God and one another.

Because of God’s extravagant love we can exchange our shallow optimism for deep hope for ourselves and the world. In the midst of so much darkness, so much grief, so much injustice, so much violence, we can dare to proclaim that there is light and joy and justice and peace. We can remember that our hope is in Jesus who leads us through sin into forgiveness, through death into resurrection.