When my children were teenagers they got hold of my yearbook from senior year in high school and got a big chuckle when they saw that I had been named “class optimist.” They recognize me more as a Murphy’s Law, cup half-empty, kind of guy. If I were a Winnie The Pooh character I would have to be Eeyore, the gloomy stuffed donkey.
I had forgotten about being class optimist, and to this day it mystifies me how I was chosen. Perhaps the yearbook staff was being ironic. I had, then as now, a dark sense of humor. My favorite movie back then was a Peter Seller’s cynical Cold War comedy called “The Mouse that Roared” about a doomsday atomic bomb shaped like a football.
That year my Mom was dying of cancer, my Dad was losing his business, the town was taking our historic old house by eminent domain to build a school addition. So there wasn’t much to be optimistic about, and although my lines have often landed in pleasant places in the decades that have followed, I remain always ready for the other shoe to drop.
To make matters worse I have carefully and painfully honed my lack of optimism since high school by becoming a long-time Boston Red Sox fan, the team that is currently in one of the most historic end-of-season collapses in baseball history (as I expected).
So you could safely say that in general I am not naturally optimistic.
But I am hopeful. And the reason I am hopeful has nothing at all to do with my disposition but has everything to do with God’s character, the God who has chosen to be with us and for us (and I mean all of us), the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Those of you who know me know that my Christian faith is a cross-centered faith. Perhaps because of the setbacks of my adolescence when I came back to the faith as a young adult it was through the cross. It made sense of my life and my world. There on the cross we humans, in the name of religion and politics, murdered the Lord of Glory.
But he didn’t stay dead. God raised him up, and because of that we Christians now view the hopelessness of Good Friday in Easter light, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith.
We still live in a Good Friday world, as any perusal of the day’s news makes clear, but I am hopeful nonetheless, because I have an Easter faith that God is alive and real and Lord of the future.
We need more hope in the world (and in the church.) There is a sort of functional atheism, even in the church, that believes it is all up to us, and that is a pretty hopeless thought. We certainly all have our parts to play, but the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who is always doing a new thing, so who ever knows what might happen next? I certainly never expected the Iron Curtain to fall, or apartheid to end in South Africa, not that those incandescent moments in history solved all the problems of their regions or led us to the kingdom of God. Still, they seem to me signs of unexpected grace.
Optimism, as a sort of hoping for the best, can be a denial of the real. But Christian hope faces the real. Our hope springs from trust that in the future God will be the same God we have known in the past. I am always curious to see what God might do next.
So when people ask me how I feel about the future, I say in truth, “I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful.”
Richard L. Floyd, pastor emeritus at First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is an author and blogger. His blog is “When I Survey . . .“