October 12, 2014
Sunday 9:00 p.m.
Letter #352: Hopeful Optimism
I came across a fascinating quote this week that lent credibility to my hopelessly optimistic viewpoint of life. The quote simply reads, “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” I loved it the moment I first laid eyes on it, but after some thoughtful consideration and study, I like it all the more.
For one thing, it has me phrasing my sentences in far more profound a manner, as in the statement, “I like it all the more.” For another thing, it is Biblically sound, ringing true with the doctrine of Scripture. I know you’d gladly take my word on this, but you don’t have to today.
Jeremiah, a prophet of God around 627–580 BC, certainly had a big goal, an assignment from God to turn the hearts of God’s people back to Him. Yet the going wasn’t easy, and things only seemed to get worse, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and with it, the Temple, by Israel’s enemies (see Jeremiah 52:12-13). For someone who was so heavily invested in his relationship with God, this disaster could have had catastrophic results on Jeremiah’s goals. After all, it certainly appeared that God was losing, if anyone was keeping score.
Yet Jeremiah knew that God had not sent him to protect Jerusalem or the crown jewel of Jerusalem, its Temple. No, he was sent to God’s people to warn them of the impending disaster and to tell them about God’s hopes for redemption of His people once they turned their hearts back to Him. Jeremiah could not be swayed from this assignment, no matter the obstacles or distractions.
To most Bible scholars, Jeremiah is known as the “Weeping Prophet,” and he certainly did his share of crying, there is no doubt (see entire book of Lamentations). However, do not think of Jeremiah as weak or resigned to his fate just because he was passionate about his city, his people, and his God. He faced obstacle after obstacle as he tried to get God’s message out to the people. Kings, priests, and other prophets alike all came against him, yet Jeremiah pressed on, determined to accomplish what God had asked of him, no matter the opposition.
And where did Jeremiah find the strength to proceed, undaunted in the face of adversity and widespread devastation? I wouldn’t define him as a hopeless optimist by any stretch of the imagination, but he had something in him that was far more powerful: he had hope in God. In the midst of lamenting his incredible loss, we see Jeremiah recall the faithfulness of God’s mercies to him. Lamentations 3 shows us Jeremiah’s heart: “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss, yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness” (vs. 19–23).
The word translated “hope” in this passage is the Hebrew word “yakhal,” pronounced like a Jewish redneck saying “you all.” This is not a wishful-thinking kind of hope, with fingers crossed. The definition of “yakhal” is: “A confident expectation for the future with a sense of anticipation and certainty while waiting for the outcome.” This hope is what hoping in the Lord is all about. It is confidence in action, knowing God’s character: He is faithful. He is merciful. Jeremiah could see beyond the trying obstacles and constant distractions to the destination God had in mind for him.
Almost exactly 2,000 years after Jeremiah, another unpopular voice began speaking out, sure of what God had placed upon his heart to do, but finding few who would stand with him. Like Jeremiah, kings, queens, priests, and the wise men of his day came against him, even ridiculing him. After much labor, failure, headache, and disappointment, he eventually reached his destination and accomplished the goals he’d chosen in God’s strength.
This was no “hopeless optimist” who said the quote I first referenced, but a man whose hope was in God’s ability to accomplish great things through him, because of God’s faithfulness and mercy. It was Christopher Columbus who said, “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” And boy, did he ever arrive.
Not long ago I read a biography on Christopher Columbus, which featured large passages from his extensive journals, faithfully kept while on each of his many expeditions. Throughout the volumes he penned, two constants stood out to me: Columbus faced unbelievably difficult challenges, and Columbus knew with absolute certainty that God would see him through to the end. He knew he didn’t possess superior abilities, profound wisdom, or leadership skills, but these were not a hindrance to Columbus’ ambitious goals. He took what God gave him and made the most of it.
Now, more than 500 years after Columbus’ greatest exploits that paved the way for the founding of our nation, we celebrate his birth as a national holiday, a tribute to a man who believed that with God, all things are possible. And I guess I see myself as not so much a “hopeless optimist,” but like that other Christopher, one who chooses optimism based on hope, expecting God to be “faithful to complete the good work He’s begun” in me. To some, this distinction may seem like mere semantics, but not to me. I have big goals that lead to incredible destinations, and my only hope to prevail over the many obstacles and distractions I face in the daily pursuit of those goals—my ONLY hope—is in God’s faithfulness and mercy.