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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Half Empty or Half Full

Last night I was at a reception speaking with a man who flies around the world on a regular basis. He shared his concerns about what he sees going on in England, in Asia and the ramifications it will have on our kids in the future. He said that he wasn't pessimistic, but he was a bit worried.

Any time I broach the subject of being negative it generates energy. I have been asked many times, "are you glass half empty or half full?" My answer is always the same, "Are we pouring or drinking?" Much of the view of things is dependent upon our trajectory.

Optimism is often equated with superiority. People who expect the best are some how better than others. There is no doubt that a positive attitude is vital. People need to believe something good is coming, but realistically, everything doesn't always work out. The best hitters in baseball make twice as many outs as they have hits. Every season someone celebrates a championship, but everyone else doesn't. Any time our city celebrates landing a new business coming into the area, somewhere else there are people bemoaning the lost jobs or the failure to lure the company there. Every optimist is not a winner. Any number of tragedies is the result of someone who thought everything was going to work out!

I am reading a book by a secular Jew in the math and science field. Although he is not a believer, he is writing a book about the failure of science to disprove God. [That's right an agnostic ally to faith!] He is pretty strong in his critique of the claims of the new Atheists. In one chapter, he addresses the claim that religion makes people feel guilty for no good reason. In response to the claim that modern, post-religious man is more ethical and civilized, he creates a list of all the casualties of wars in the last one hundred plus years. For almost three pages he identifies each conflict and the numbers who died. The list is mind numbing.

Now the fact that we have seen so many bad things happen in the past does not mean that anything bad will happen in the future. The optimists are free to tell us that everything will be "fine, great, wonderful!" On the other hand, just because bad things happened in the past does not mean that today everything will collapse, but the pessimists are still free to bewail their concerns. I prefer to say that we are fools to be optimistic that everything will be fine and we are self-destructive if we only focus on the negative. Realists know there are real dangers in the world. Realists know that we dodge many bullets, but eventually someone gets hit. Statistically, things do not always work out for everyone. Realists know that death is real.

Christian realists interpret this situation through the lense of hope and faith. Faithful people suffered and died in the great wars and in the minor wars (you know, the obscure ones where only 25,000 died). Faithful people cried out to God for deliverance from their enemies, even as they were crushed and destroyed. Faithful people have sat in the darkness and waited for the light which never seemed to come. In this world, there is still darkness, as John reminds us in his gospel, but the darkness has not overcome the Light. There is resurrection and their is hope beyond this life.

So all those threats: economic collapse, natural disasters, riots, wars, disease are not only possible but likely to occur somewhere and affect someone. They might take us, but our hope is not just to escape from life's difficulties, it is deliverance to a new life. Resurrection. God's promise is a new creation. Anytime we escape evil here, whether optimist or pessimist, we are only tasting a preview of the final deliverance. I am worried about the current trends in our world. I know things can get very bad very quickly (9-11 and New Orleans are but two examples). I also know I am greatful for the good that is. Most of all, though, I am hoping and praying for God's deliverance and protection: for His light in a world where there is much darkness. I am hoping and praying for resurrection!


  1. What a good word! thanks for sharing! Blessings on all our Tennessee friends from the Sheffields!

  2. One thing I've always appreciated about you is your realism. People dealing with real struggles don't need optimism. They need real hope grounded in something much deeper and stronger than "positive thinking." Real hope has to be able to look darkness straight in the face, accept how bad it really is, and still see goodness and joy beyond it.


    This is the book I am reading. Some have asked
    thanks Anna Marie, love to Texas!
    thanks Sheila, you have been brave in the face of so much!

  4. There is sometimes another word for optimism.... it is denial... Too many use optimism as an excuse for not doing anything because it is easier to hope things will get better than it is to actually do something. If I break my arm, while it is all well and good to be told I will be fine, I want someone to step up, tell me it's broken, reset it and put it in an uncomfortable cast so it will heal.Then you can tell me I will be fine and it will mean something.