. . . 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 Commentary’s “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.
There are two things in particular that other philosophies don’t -- and cannot -- say. One is the admonition of Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We would not receive this instruction if the method didn’t work. Good does overcome evil. We have no justification for despairing of that.
The other is expressed in 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We all, from time to time, understand slowness in a way that makes the Lord’s timetable seem slow to us. But, unlike others, Christians know that there is a promise to the lost -- that when God seems slow it’s because He is keeping His promise. That knowledge should infuse everything we do. The economy of grace has not changed; “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20). Being salt and light in the world doesn’t make Christians a green flash on the horizon as the setting sun drops below it, in this age or in any other. It makes the righteousness of Jesus Christ shine in every corner of the earth like the noonday sun.
With the optimism that comes from hoping in the Lord, Christians can put our temporal political arrangements in the proper perspective. They matter, and we will perforce have opinions about them. But we don’t demand that they relieve us of all our fears, nor do we agree to sell our liberty of conscience for the false promise that they will. It’s God’s promises that are true -- and His great project is transforming not “society,” or the disposition of the cosmos, but the individual heart. He is keeping His promise to all Creation by working that way. As the hearts go, so go human civilization and our future.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air’s Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.