February 22, 2007
Our brother Al Mohler once said somewhere that "optimism is naive, but pessimism is atheistic." I think he’s right. On non-ultimate matters (our government’s fate, our culture’s response to the Gospel, the world in rebellion against God) we can be agnostic or even pessimistic. But on ultimate matters–God’s glory, His victory in procuring a people to His eternal praise, the triumph of the church–there is nothing but ultimate optimism presented in the Bible–Old Testament or New. Jesus promised in Matt. 16 that His church will prevail. We see from visions in Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation, and prophecies in Isaiah and the Gospels that, in the end, and FOREVER, GOD WINS!!
This is the kind of joy-giving perception that allowed Jesus to endure the cross, scorning its shame, and so it is for us. The western church has too often allowed Marxist/securlarist critiques to rob us of the joy we should have in our confidence of final and forever fellowship with God.
And so hymns about the afterlife vanish.
In my own denomination’s hymnals, hymns about the afterlife drop in number from over 100 in the late 19th century to about 15 in the latest Baptist Hymnal (1991). Remaining hymns are neutered. The Baptist hymnal (1975 & 1991) both omit the wonderful 5th stanza from Cowper’s great hymn "There is a Fountain". If you have the 1956 Baptist Hymnal you can still find it. "When this poor lisping stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave, Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing Thy power to Save." Our reluctance to sing about the grave in church on Sunday only reveals how much our hopes have been entrusted to this life–and we do not wish to conceive of them being lost. Our treasures have been put too much in this world.
The wonderful optimism that is Christian is all about being adopted by the Father we rejected, and being forgiven by the husband we cheated on. It is about being accepted by the Righteous Judge, and about being embraced by the Friend we betrayed. All of this is sure in Christ. About all of these matters, there is no room for pessimism.
On other more temporary issues–how the community will respond to our church–how much our various cultures will affirm freedom for Christian proclamation and practice–we have no Biblical promises, such as "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will NOT be persecuted." In fact, the Spirit’s promise to us is the opposite (see II Tim. 3:12).
In this world, God gives times of refreshing and seasons of great Gospel growth, and times of more overt opposition to the Gospel. I’m not convinced that we can read the Bible in such a way as to know what is coming to us in the next decade on this level. But ultimately, in light of Revelation 22:4 and Matt. 16:18 and Ezek. 48:35 and Daniel 12:2-3 and I Thess 4:17-18, there is no room for final pessimism in Christianity.
"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32. This is seriously good news. And for the Christian, it is completely unavoidable.