The Biblical Basis for Christian Optimism (VI)

Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope (Ps.119:116).

In 1,000 B.C., the Psalmist thought it was right to be hoping in the Lord. Already, he had Biblical promises to sustain him, beginning with this one, given to the serpent in the Garden:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel (Gen.3:15).

But in being hopeful, the Psalmist doesn’t want to look ridiculous or foolish. In another psalm, he asks God, “…do not let me be ashamed…” (Ps.25:2).

Why does he say this? People who are optimistic without good reason, will probably be ashamed. They will look foolish in the eyes of others, especially the ungodly. So, the Psalmist wants to be optimistic and hopeful, but also sensible.

This is a valid attitude to hold. Christian optimism is by faith, but is not to be without wisdom and understanding, which are essential attributes for all of us.

I am optimistic about the future, but only in this context:

  1. a) The church being willing to discard its compromises with the world, which are legion.
  2. b) The church being willing to engage in a lot of Biblical tasks it’s avoided now, for generations. (I plan to have more to say about this.)

Joshua and Caleb seemed to think the same way. When the twelve spies returned from spying out the land, ten of them brought a bad report. Consequently, the congregation of Israel grumbled at Moses, and wanted to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. But Joshua and Caleb (the dissenting two of the twelve), adopted a different position. They said,

…the land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us-a land which flows with milk and honey (Num.14:7-8).

Note that this has a conditional context: “If the Lord is pleased with us…” Nothing here is automatic or unconditional, in Joshua or Caleb’s minds.

These men were much more than good, willing warriors, for there have been countless millions of these in history. What distinguished them was that they believed that the promises of God were for them, who like Christians are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. They thought these promises were to be received in this life, as well as the next. Their theological views about their future significantly influenced what they wanted to do, now. They acted on their sound theological views, and were rewarded. Unlike the other 603,000 men of their generation, they believed in the promises, went into the land, destroyed the inhabitants, and were ultimately buried there.

What about the ten spies who adopted a negative view, and influenced the congregation of Israel, accordingly? The Bible says that

…the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought a very bad report of the land died by a plague before the Lord. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of all those men who went to spy out the land (Num.14:36-38).

The Holy Spirit here, clearly links the attitudes of these two groups of men, to the outcome they experienced in history. Their outcomes were not mere accidents of history, but were divinely chosen consequences, based on their attitudes and character.

The New Testament offers us further commentary on this:

For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief (Heb.3:16-19).

Conclusion:

What we think about tomorrow clearly influences what we will do tomorrow, but that’s just the start. It may even determine whether God gives us life tomorrow.

That’s a very good reason to be optimistic about the promises and faithfulness of God.

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