And with this fruit comes benefit for our lives -- and not for ours alone, but for the communal life we live with those around us. Patience and gentleness make a difference not only in dealing with our children or the people at work, but in our wisdom about social issues, politics, and even national security. It is impossible to be long-headed or visionary without patience. It is likewise impossible to persuade others, and garner support for a vision, without gentleness. Goodness and self-control make all the difference in executing a public trust without abusing it. Kindness and faithfulness are indispensable qualities for successful small business proprietors, as they are for lending and borrowing, owning property and investing. Aspiring to lead others devolves inevitably into manipulation and cynicism, unless it is motivated by love. Without joy, leadership loses its savor and purpose.

All these qualities add up to character. They are what Paul had in mind in Romans 5:3-5, when he described this important progression:

. . . we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

How often do we remember that character produces hope -- a hope that does not disappoint us? Too often today, we think of character instead as a noble but doomed thing. Something I learned as a Naval intelligence officer, however, is that pessimism isn’t a form of analysis. Analysis takes into account all factors, positive and negative. Pessimism isn’t analysis; it’s just pessimism. It’s an a priori mindset, not a type of empiricism. The truth is that countervailing factors abound. Neither human history nor Christian faith validates pessimism as an outlook.

Peter Wehner, the marvelous thinker and writer with whom I blog at Commentarys “Contentions,” recently published his new book with Michael Gerson, City of Man. It’s about how much Christians should mix politics and faith, a topic that has recently generated considerable discussion here. (Patheos readers saw Timothy Dalrymple’s interview with him posted last week.) And discussions of this kind are essential and meaningful. But I believe there is a very real sense in which Christians are inevitably political actors in one role or another, whether as voters, public officials, thinkers, writers, parents, or simply citizens with opinions. We can’t actually withdraw from the world -- not if we want to carry out the Great Commission.

And one of the most important differences we bring to any of these roles is a grounded Christian optimism. Other philosophies don’t tell people that suffering, perseverance, and character produce hope. Other philosophies rely on quite the converse: the fear of despair and loss, if people do not make a compromise on principle here or sell a little more of their liberty there.