One of the things that first attracted me to Liz was her indomitable optimism. She was always encouraging, empathetic. . .and optimistic. With a sunny smile, this strange creature would say things like “everything will be fine,” “I’m sure that won’t happen,” or the less common “I’m sure your world won’t dissolve into an abyss of wretched pain tomorrow at 3:00pm.” What was amazing was that she was usually right (at least about that last one). As a card carrying realist, this was challenging (yet attractive) to me.
But what if “it could be worse” turned into “it is worse?” What if “it” did happen? In short, if Job 5:7 is true, isn’t “realist” more biblical than “optimist.”
With that question in mind, I’m going to try out a few “optimistic” statements specifically designed for the inveterate “realist.” Maybe we’ll find that the real “realism” is actually a biblical “optimism.”
Instead of saying “it could be worse” maybe we could say “it’s actually better.” God is good, gracious, and all-powerful. Since this is so, and since God is the one in whom we live and move and have our very being (Acts 17:28), how can we leave him out of our reality and yet call it “realism”? God is my context. Self-pity, fear, and pride aren’t content to “color” reality, rather they want to act as if God isn’t part of reality. But he is. So the next time you face-off with a realist, restate his complaint in the following manner: “God is good and gracious and all-powerful, but X may happen.” Maybe the “realist” doesn’t really view reality as it actually is.
Or you could say, “this looks like it’s going to be really hard, but at least you’ll be more like Christ on the other side of it.” I’m going to invoke Romans 8:28 on this one (It’s not a cliché–if that’s what you’re thinking, stop!). The saved realist is predestined to be like Jesus. If that’s true, not only is every circumstance incapable of destroying saving faith (see Job), but Satan’s schemes (Eph 6:11) and flaming arrows (Eph 6:16) must also fail in the end. They are actually counterproductive. His flaming arrows will make you more like Christ, that is, if that optimistic shield of belief in God’s “coming through” on all his promises extinguishes them (Eph 6:16, cf. 1 Pet 5:8–9). Realistically speaking, whatever you’re going through will change you for the good!
Third, you could say “it will all turn out right in the end.” But we’ve already had that discussion.
Fourth, you could say “don’t worry, you’ll praise God again.” Psalm 42–43 are a lament. The psalmist generalizes his particular situation so that we might enter into it the lament with our own. He is sick, in exile (Ps 43:1–3), or beset by unnamed enemies (Ps 42:9–10). It is a long trouble which dries the spirit so much so that he cannot worship God (Ps 42:1–2, 4). The Psalmist has started to believe his enemies Godless view of reality (Ps 42:3, 10). How will he negotiate with these dark thoughts, blackened by the despair of unbelief? What does he do at this point? He brings God back in to his situation. Look carefully at Ps 43:2. The psalmist holds up a discontinuity of belief. He states “God is my refuge,” yet he admits “I feel as though God has rejected me.” These beliefs cannot coincide. They collide. And as they collide the first belief obliterates the second (Ps 43:3-5). When God’s light (contrast Ps 42:10) and truth lead him (Ps 43:3), they lead him to praise (Ps 43:4–5). The lies of despair don’t lead to praise, truth does. Hope is the only recourse when truth leads (Ps 43:5) and will end at “God my exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4). The reality of God’s truth is the entrance to restored joy. One day, some real day from now, you will again praise God with abandon. The vapor life will dissolve into the heavenly reality of praise.
So, are you an optimistic realist, or what?