Through the years I have read and heard unbelievers charge Christianity with being a negative and pessimistic religion, that it doesn’t contain an optimistic message. Such an accusation is baseless and unwarranted. While Christianity places no confidence in the fragile house of cards built by fallen humanity on foundations of godless secularism, the Christian faith is filled with optimism and hope which is contained within its very message. Let’s examine three areas where the sunshine of the Christian faith chases away the darkness of pessimism.
First, Christianity is charged as viewing man negatively, by labeling him a sinner. That is not negativism that is realism. There is one scriptural doctrine that is self-evident, and that is man is a sinner who has come short of what he was created to be by His Creator. Being a sinner doesn’t mean that all men sin as much as they can or that we all sin alike, but we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Man’s sinfulness is manifested in his failure to give God rightful place in his life, his selfish motives and attitudes, and his malicious acts against his fellow man. Man was created in the Image of God, but his deliberate rebellion against the One who created him has marred that image and brought separation between God and man.
But the message of Christianity is a positive one. Yes, there is separation that exists between a holy God and sinful man, but the Good News is that God in Jesus Christ took the initiative to bring about reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 cor. 5:19). Religion is man’s futile attempt by his own efforts to become reconciled and have a restored relationship with his Creator. Christianity says God in Christ took the initiative and reconciliation has already been provided. In the face of pessimism of man’s sinful condition, there is the optimistic message that in Christ reconciliation is found.
Second, Christianity is charged as viewing man’s eternal fate negatively, regarding he is deserving of hell’s judgment. “After all,” the argumentative question goes, “if God was loving why would He allow anyone to go hell?” This is where our sinful nature fails to grasp the holiness of God. God’s holiness, His pure nature which is above sin, which abhors and opposes sin and that which is unrighteous, can only allow in His presence that which perfectly complies with His holiness. Judgment is holiness’ righteous reaction against sin. If God ceased to be holy, if His holy nature ceased to judge sin, He would cease to be God. And that which cannot comply with His holiness, that which cannot return unto Him like holiness, is excluded from His presence. Since man is a sinner by nature and choice, He is unable to comply with God’s demand to return unto Him like holiness; therefore, even though God is love, His holy-love will not “overlook” His demand for holiness in His creatures. What is man to do?
The Good News is, God’s holy-love doesn’t dismiss our sin, but judges sin in Jesus Christ. The same holy-love which judges sin, provides in Christ salvation and forgiveness for our sin. Herein is true love, God’s holy-love provided in Christ, our Substitute, the holiness we need to be able to have a relationship with the holy Father and to someday dwell with Him in heaven. The Good News is that in Christ God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. Christ complied with the holy demands of God on behalf of humanity and then took the judgment you and I deserve for not being able to comply. Now that is not a negative message, but a message filled with optimistic hope which makes the heart rejoice and burst forth with praise.
Third, Christianity is accused of having a negative view of history. Unbelievers accuse Christianity of being negative in regard to man’s ability in his own autonomy to bring about the utopia man has always sought to establish. Civilization after civilization has proved man in his own wisdom and self-sufficiency is incapable of establishing that sought after utopia. When man was created, he was placed in a Paradise, but because of sin Paradise was lost. Ever since, man has sought to experience that which John Milton wrote about in his epic poem, “Paradise Regained.” But is not the Christian view of history which is negative and pessimistic, it is the non-Christian; they having a cyclical view of history, which sees the universe as having no beginning and history continually repeating itself. Atheistic philosophy calls the cyclical view of history as “eternal recurrence,” seeing history as having no goal, but only repeating itself.
The Bible, however, informs us the world did have a beginning and that the flow of history, guided by divine Providence, is headed for the day when Paradise will be restored and regained. Christians view history through the concepts of creation, fall, and redemption; a progression of events beginning with God’s good creation, humanity’s rebellion against God, and God’s ultimate plan for divine intervention, redemption, and restoration. In face of the darkest hour the Christian has the optimistic hope of that day when there will a New Heaven and New Earth. Christian’s are given the hope that after man has done his worst, there is coming that day when our Lord Jesus Christ will return and will rule and reign. The Christian should not be pessimistic about the future, but optimistic… for each day that passes is one day closer to the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who shall reign forever and forever. This belief in a climactic conclusion causes Christians to adopt an optimistic view of history that reflects the vast meaning with which God has destined history.
Is man a sinner, yes; is there a hell where sin is judged, yes; is history a testimony to man’s inability to establish utopia, yes….but the optimistic message of Christianity is that in Christ God has provide the sinner with a Savior, a way of escape from our deserved judgment of hell, and a promise that there is coming a New Heaven and New Earth where Paradise will be restored, Christ will reign, and believers will reside.
While the Christian is a pessimist when it comes to putting confidence and hope in the sand castles of fallen man, A.W. Tozer has written, “The cross-carrying Christian…[should] be an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth.” O, wise is the person who seeks Christ, for He is the true source of optimism in history and in life.