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David Hegg: Optimism is the refuge in reason

Posted: October 7, 2013 2:28 p.m.
Updated: October 7, 2013 2:28 p.m.
 

A friend of mine was recently asked to address a group of business people on the theme of optimism. His very successful career in both the video game and television industries was often summarized in terms of his seemingly unconquerable optimism. He asked me what I thought about the subject and it got me thinking.

Just what is optimism? Off the cuff we’d all probably define it in terms of positive thinking about the future. The optimist sees the glass as half full, presenting the opportunity for more to be poured in. We could also describe it in terms of what it is not. That is, it is the opposite of whining and complaining about everything. We’d all prefer to be surrounded by folks who are positive in their outlook instead of calling attention to every little thing they find uncomfortable.

But can there be too much optimism? For many, optimism comes dressed in hyper-confidence and plain old arrogance. These are the people for whom optimism has become a calling card, and it too often morphs into a hubris characterized by stubborn insistence that their insights are perfect and their decisions beyond debate. They are optimistic all right, and pretty much blind to the reality that most of their optimism is really self-delusion.

On the other hand there are folks who are blindly optimistic because they refuse to acknowledge anything that would dampen their outlook. These “head in the sand” folks are cheery even as the quicksand gulps them all the way down. But since they eschew any kind of conflict or sadness, they choose optimism at any cost, even their own well-being. Pollyanna optimism certainly isn’t a good choice.

These two options – arrogance and avoidance – define the ends of the optimism spectrum. Neither one presents the best option in regards to an attitude toward the challenges and opportunities of life. So, how do we avoid these, and find a proper and beneficial stance as an optimist?

The answer is to go beneath an optimistic viewpoint to the grounds on which such a viewpoint must stand. Baseless optimism leads to denial, even as optimism based on personal pride leads to stubborn arrogance. The key must be to find the correct basis for being optimistic.

For some, their optimism will be situational. Their attitude will change with the circumstances. But this kind of optimism is really of little value given that its ups and downs can be quite draining. What we need is a reason for optimism that transcends the daily bumps and bruises of our unpredictable world.

For me, the greatest reason for optimism is the refuge I have found in the reasonableness of God, as described in the Bible. Belief in God is reasonable simply because such a worldview not only can explain reality, including the presence of evil and suffering, but it also provides grounds for an optimistic worldview.

Further, given that the immaterial part of me – consciousness, for example – can’t be explained by a purely physical process such as evolution, it is comforting to know that life has a purpose, that history is going somewhere, and that “somewhere” has everything to do with an omniscient God who has planned all things for his glory. Simply put, I can be glad for my hope is in the Lord. My optimism is grounded in his faithfulness.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking runs every Sunday.

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