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Why Christians Should Be Optimists

The best of the free life is still yet to come,

The good times ain't over for good

—Merle Haggard, Are The Good Times Really Over For Good (1982)


Do you ever long for the good old days? Do you ever feel as though the future is bleak compared to the past, for the church specifically or for America generally? Mr. Haggard wrote his song to counter the common feeling in the country in 1982 that America's best days were definitely behind her. In the depths of the Cold War and with a decade of miserable economic performance behind us, many American's needed the reassurance of Merle's conclusion that the best was yet to come.

For those seeking such reassurance today, there are scholars who have taken an empirical look back to show that human progress continues to be steady. In my opinion, the best work in this field is Matt Ridley's book The Rational Optimist. Mr. Ridley factually points out that by almost any measure (wealth, health or technological advancements), humans continue to progress.

But we also need to remember that the Bible taught us this lesson long ago. In what is called the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament scriptures, inspired authors wrote proverbs and other common-sense prose which are designed to help us counteract natural, but misleading and even unhealthy, human tendencies. Books such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are not to be viewed as are the Laws of Moses – a series of thou shalt not rules and regulations. Instead, knowing the common faults humans share, the Wisdom Literature is designed to provide a counterweight to some of our misguided inclinations.

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by the wise king Solomon late in his life after he had personally fallen prey to his own version of many of these common snares. One of his wise sayings is found in what is labeled as the seventh chapter of the book.

Say not, "Why were the former days better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Ecclesiastes 7: 10 [ESV]

Solomon was telling us that humans have a predisposition to think that the good times are over for good but that this line of thinking is irrational. Down through history, each generation seems to feel that the generation which follows is going to cause (or at least allow) the world to implode in around it. And with each new recession, natural disaster or human tragedy, many people honestly fret that the best is behind us and it is all down hill from here. But Solomon's verse – calling out to us down through the ages – could be rewritten as:

You should not say "Remember the good old days? They were so much better than today." You cannot logically say that. Take an objective look and you will see the evidence points to an ongoing track record of human progress. Though it is all too common, don't allow your emotions about the situations or trends of today to irrationally cloud your outlook concerning tomorrow.

But why is our optimism concerning the future important? The first charge given by God to man in the Bible (Genesis 1: 26-28) was to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. If we ever truly think that the best is behind us and it is all downhill from here, we will cease striving as earnestly to fulfill that initial command. After all, what would be the point if there is no more progress to be made? People who have studied the Bible's Wisdom Literature have long understood we are not to fool ourselves into thinking the best is behind us and, therefore, we are to continue striving for that sometimes elusive but almost guaranteed human progress. In short, followers of the Bible should generally be optimists regarding the future. And, therefore, we should continue the progress of subduing the earth and having dominion over it with as much zeal as ever.

Dr. Andy Daniell is the Sr. Minister at a church outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of the recently released book Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us to View The World.

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