Optimist or pessimist?

Earle D. Treptow

Do you belong to the “pessimist party” or the “optimist club”? Your answer may depend on the day you’re asked. For instance, if asked whether your favorite team will win a championship, you may be a pessimist, conditioned by years of futility. But two months later, when the team is exceeding expectations, you may be an optimist.

On a more serious level, would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist on the possibility of eliminating, or reducing, the mass shootings that plague us? Do you think steps can be taken to preserve life? Or do you feel that attempts to address the situation won’t make any substantial difference? How does your Christian faith influence your view?

Christians have learned, by the Father’s grace and the Spirit’s work, to tune their ears to God’s Word when they’re bothered by horrific events. What Christians hear is God speaking the truth about all people, including us: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). We can’t be overly surprised by these senseless shootings. Sinners sin. The law that God has written on human hearts curbs sin, but it doesn’t stop all sin from occurring, as we know from our own personal struggles.

Christians also hear what Jesus said about the final days of this world: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). People will become increasingly self-centered. They will do what their corrupt hearts want to do, with little thought to the impact of their actions on others.

Christians who believe what God says about sinners don’t expect an end of senseless violence in this world. Laws may well be enacted to make it more difficult to get the kinds of weapons used in these shootings. Yet laws do not change hearts. Sinful hearts will remain loveless. Christians see the glass half empty.

But Christians whose ears are tuned to God’s Word also hear promises that fill their hearts with confidence. The Lord Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, promises to direct all things for the benefit of his people. The Lord is ruling over everything, even if rampant wickedness makes it appear that the devil has gained the upper hand.

When we reflect on senseless violence, we often focus only on the hard-heartedness of sinners and forget about God’s grace and power. The One who desires all to be saved promises to work through his powerful gospel to call people to repentance and faith.

What’s more, he promises to empower his people to speak the gospel through which the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms hearts and lives. Believing the Lord’s promise that he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), we take up the task of speaking God’s Word to the world. We need not feel helpless in the face of rampant violence. Jesus gave us the task to proclaim his heart-changing gospel to everyone, and he gave us his promise that the Spirit will accompany the Word we speak. Christians see the glass half full.

When Christians focus on sinful human beings, they’re pessimistic—sinners will continue to sin. When Christians focus on the grace and power of God, they’re optimistic—the Lord can change hearts. We know and confess the sinner’s natural depravity, which makes every sin possible. But we also know and confess the grace and power of our Savior-God, for whom nothing is impossible, not even transforming hearts and altering lives.

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

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