I read an article the other day about how Western optimism is a counterproductive anomaly, leading to debilitating surprise and sorrow when bad things inevitably happen. While not a Christian article, writer Alain de Botton used Christianity as an example of pessimism, “that it’s a sin to suppose that such perfection can ever occur on Earth. Nothing human can ever be free of blemishes. There cannot be an end to boom and bust.”  

We so desperately want the opposite to be true during these uncertain times. We pray for God’s hand of blessing to return, for our jobs to remain secure, for the markets to flow freely once again. And we hang on to this American optimism because the alternative scares us and creates a tight ball of fear in our gut.

One of my friends recently went through two rounds of layoffs in her company, a situation all too common these days. After the first round, those who remained felt shocked and saddened by the absence of their fallen coworkers. She described the office during that time as surreal, a place where phones rang without being answered because that person no longer worked there. When the second round of layoffs brought a pink slip her way, she felt relieved to escape the stress of that corporate disaster zone. And in a sense our whole nation feels that stress right now, that fear of another shoe dropping.

We don’t want things to get worse – our company will not be the one to fail, our job will remain even after others plummet, our investments will miraculously grow. The whole animal will turn around, and then everything will be fine. And this type of hope could indeed restore our markets for a time, but it will not restore our spirits. We need a different kind of hope for that. A different kind of optimism.

Suppose for a minute that Pollyanna isn’t right and everything goes tumbling downhill. Imagine the worst-case scenario for your career and the livelihood of your loved ones, indeed the whole world. What if the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen, happens?

If you have spent much time reading the Bible, then you know that nations will rise and fall. Riches will come and go – people will enjoy prosperity one day and severe famine the next. And in fact you don’t even need to read the Bible to know this – any old history book will do.

So if disaster of some kind does indeed await us, how we respond individually and/or collectively will be a defining moment. Who among us has not uttered a curse after smashing a finger? Or shouted something in anger that we never would have said otherwise? Our sins leak out when we’re squeezed.

In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul tells us “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Then in Romans 14:17, we read that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And here’s the directive, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

This is not the materialistic optimism that prays for profits and rising stock value, nor the hope that seeks job security so we can keep our big homes and flat-screen TVs. This is something deeper, less transient. Real.

By all means, pray for your job. Ask God for that promotion. But should it all fall apart, if the worst does indeed happen, remember that true optimism trusts only in the unfailing character of the Lord our God, and seeks the bottomless peace supplied through the Holy Spirit.

“In the beginning You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain” Psalms 102:25.

Published June 26, 2009.


Anna L. Davis is the author of The College Precipice: Faith and Life for Young Women – a book for college-aged women about trusting God with their future and identity. She writes about spiritual, supernatural things on her blog, “Bigger than Me” http://annaldavis.wordpress.com/. Anna lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.