Christianity is a fascinating religion with a long and varied history. It is unique among the various paths of spiritual pursuit in that it is not so much a way to find God as it is a way to allow God to find us. One of the most magnificent aspects of the Christian faith is the understanding that God loves us more than we can ever imagine and even more startling, is in continual pursuit of us. This revelation of the character of God, along with his marvelous grace, is just a few among the many reasons that it is accurate to say the Christianity is truly a path of spiritual optimism.
The foundation of Christian optimism begins with the character of God. We are told in scripture that not only does God love us, but he is love. A number of the parables of Christ further illustrate this reality by showing us clearly that God is a loving Father, the true “Abba” God, and is concerned with the well-being of each and every one of his children. The stories of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Coin, and the statement that a shepherd leaves 99 sheep to go search for the one that is lost, all point to the fundamental reasons we Christians should literally ooze optimism from every part of our being. Put simple, we are optimists because God is love and God loves us.
At times, I am shocked into awe when, looking at the night sky on a crystal clear winter evening, I see the utter magnificence and magnitude of the universe. To then reflect on the fact that the Creator of all of this wonder and expanse actually came in search of me because he loves me and wants to adopt me into his eternal family, is just plain overwhelming. I am not being sentimental or overly emotional here. I am just sharing the impact this has on me when I actually take the time to see and think; take the time to see just how incredible life in its essence is and think about God’s power, wisdom, love, and concern.
In addition to the Parables of Jesus, scripture is filled with examples of God’s unique and all-encompassing love for us. One of my favorite stories involves Abraham, way back when he was still called Abram. It can be found in Genesis 15: 12-21. This is one of those passages of scripture that is often glossed over in our Bible reading, but it is actually one of the most significant stories in scripture and it points to not only God’s love for us, but also his understanding of the fickleness of human nature. Moreover, it illustrates God’s complete dedication to restoring humankind to the kind of intimate relations he shared with our ancestors in the Garden.
To set the stage, God is about to make a covenant with Abram in which God promises to make Abram the father of a great nation and God would use this very nation to eventually bring restoration of spiritual life to all humankind. In those days, when a covenant was made, there was a ritual involved. An animal was slain and cut in half. Each partner entering into the covenant would then walk between the two halves of the beast, signifying that they would each be faithful to the covenant and that if either party broke the agreement, he or she might wind up like the carved up animal.
What is fascinating about this story is what God did next. Scripture tells us that Abram fell into a deep sleep and in that slumber the Lord told him the future in terms of the enslavement of the Israelites and how the Egyptians would be punished for this injustice. As Abram sat there he soon saw a flaming fire pot walk between the animal halves alone. Did you catch the ramifications of what just happened?
Instead of both of them walking between the animal halves, God walked through them alone. Why? He understood clearly that no matter how well intentioned; no matter how strong a human might be in terms of will and faith, in the end, a human could not keep the covenant forever. And that’s what this was – an eternal covenant. So, what did God do? He walked through the divided animal parts for Abram. In essence, he took on the responsibility for Abram’s half of the covenant because he new, at the end of the day, Abram could not keep it under his own power. And we know now that God was right. Abram screwed up more than once. A glaring example of Abrams unfaithfulness occurs later when he says that his wife is his sister and when he sires a son by his wife’s servant.
Can you also see how in illustrating God’s love and his gracious character, this episode foreshadows what God would do in sending Christ to earth? Again, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He took our sins upon himself, just as he shouldered Abram’s responsibility in the covenant.
How can we, as Christians, be anything but optimists with a God like this who, as they say in the vernacular, “has our back.” In their highly recommended book entitled, Furious Pursuit, Tim King and Frank Martin comment on the story told in Genesis 15:
Don’t miss the magnitude of this act and the power of the Story of God. God was so convinced of his ability to remain faithful and so determined in his plan to restore us to himself that he was willing to lay everything on the line. When God walked between the severed animal pieces, he was saying to us, “This has never been about your faithfulness; it’s about my faithfulness; It’s not about your strength, your ability to remain in covenant with me. It’s about my strength, my ability, my love, my resolve to save you. I pledge to fight for you, to stay in relationship with you, to walk with you no matter what, from now until eternity.
As Paul so aptly asked, with a God like that for us, who could possibly be against us? With a God like that for us, optimism is the only justifiable response.
I will be the first to admit that I am not always optimistic. I have my bad days, sometimes with discouraging regularity. However, with God’s help and the activity of the Holy Spirit in my life, I can say without reservation that I am much more positive in my outlook than I once was. My friend, you can also be more positive. It takes work, sometimes hard work, to begin the process of taking thoughts captive for Christ; for rooting out the negative and planting the seeds of optimism in its place. However, the effort is well worth the result. Life seems much lighter and far brighter when you see things from the perspective of having a loving God walking next to you and his gracious Spirit residing in your heart.
Why not start today by setting aside a quiet time where you can be alone with God. Ask him to come into your life and your heart at a level deeper than ever before. And specifically pray for him to help you become a more positive, optimistic person. Ask that the Holy Spirit give you wisdom and a plan for pulling up the weeds of pessimism in your life and a viable strategy for sewing the seeds of optimism.
Keep in mind this thought: God has your back! Give thanks to the Lord for being there for you and, when you complete your prayer, get up and get to work. Remember, each time a negative or pessimistic train of thought pulls into the station, you don’t have to buy a ticket and ride out on it. Instead, purchase a ticket on a more positive train of thought. In the end, the cost is much less, the ride is far more enjoyable, and the one sitting in the seat next to you is far greater than you could ever imagine.
Have a great trip.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved