The Daily Mail ran an article entitled: “Your glass really can become half full” claiming research that “shows how you can train your brain to become an OPTIMIST in seven weeks”. (1).
Now, I don’t know whether you are an optimist (a glass half full” type) or a pessimist (a glass half empty type) but the article claimed that an optimist has a much happier and it would seem healthier lifestyle than a pessimist with research showing that “on average, being optimistic can add more than seven years to a life – four years more than if a cure for cancer was found”! Fascinating stuff!
Whenever I think of the difference between the optimist and the pessimist I reflect on the opening lines of Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” So for Dickens there is tension between good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, light and darkness, Spring and Winter, plenty and poverty, heaven and hell and these things stand equally matched in their struggle to get a grip of our minds and influence our outlook on life. The question then becomes, which of these will prevail?
The answer to that question depends on your perspective. It depends on how you and I look at it! So is our life, light or darkness, spring or winter? Do we have “everything before us” or “nothing before us”? Has the best been and gone or is it still to come? How we answer those questions will make a big difference to how we live our lives and how happy we will be! Dickens is right that this is all about “comparison” about attitudes and attitudes are the things that either make us positive or negative about our future life!
There is of course much to be negative about! We have more recently struggled through a Global Pandemic which followed on from a long and difficult economic downturn during the so called “age of austerity” where most people struggled to make ends meet, even whilst a minority, never had it so good. At the same time, we increasingly live in an “age of scepticism” where people question everything and strong, heart-felt beliefs are frowned upon as indicative of a naïve trust or the superstitions of a more primitive yesteryear Yes there is much to be pessimistic about and we Christians are not immune from such pessimism.
For Christians however, optimism should always triumph over pessimism. Christians too face struggle and hardship, illness and deprivation, sadness and joy, depression and death. We are not immune from the common struggles of our mortal life, but the Christian message points us to another reality – a spiritual one in which there is hope and a future.
The last book in the Bible, Revelation, talks of “a new heaven and a new earth” which shall replace this present world in which “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”(21:1-5). This promise of new life is offered us in Jesus Christ who declared that whilst here on earth there are two ways to live and two roads to walk –the way to life and the way to death; the narrow road that leads to Heaven or the wide road that leads to Hell. The choice is ours and to begin the journey to life, Jesus points us to Himself and says “I am the way. The truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me”(John 14:6).
So perhaps, as you read this today, you have little to feel optimistic about. Perhaps you feel locked into a situation that you can’t control or locked into circumstances that you can’t change and these take their toll and increase your pessimism about the future. If you are then Jesus offers you a way of escape in which the circumstances of our lives may not change, but we change our attitude to the circumstances.
In choosing to follow Jesus we can choose to live in belief; in light, in Spring, and in the hope of eternal life in Heaven. When we remember what Jesus offers us we have no reason to be pessimistic about our future. Our glass is full!