As I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, title Abounding in Hope, our American culture promotes optimism for a better future. To use an old proverb, we tend to promote the idea that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. To quote President Ronald Reagan, “Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
Part of our American optimism comes from our predominant Christian heritage. Hope is a central virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ. But there is at least one key distinction between American optimism and Christian hope. American optimism places our basic trust in ourselves and our ability to solve our common problems. We see a challenge, roll up our sleeves and get to work, whether it is placing a man on the moon, fighting terrorism or recovering from natural disasters. As Americans we believe in the possibility of creating a “better life” for ourselves, by overcoming obstacles and challenges.
Christian hope has a different focus. Our Christian hope is not in ourselves, but in our God who loves us and saves us from ourselves. We believe God is at work in the world, calling all people to God’s rule of justice and peace. We know that there will be struggles and difficulties. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). The cross is hardly a symbol of optimism. Paul goes so far as to say that he boasts in his struggles.
we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
As an American Christian I do not reject an optimistic glass-half-full attitude. There are many problems in our world that need a positive can-do attitude — poverty, hunger, and racism to name a few. However I also know that as follower of Jesus Christ, there will be times and situations that I cannot overcome. The primary ones are my sin and my death. No amount of optimism and self-encouragement will help me here. My only hope is Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection are my source of hope today and forever.
How do you connect or distinguish American Optimism and Christian Hope?
Lord Jesus, continue to fill my heart with hope in you.