Pessimism is defined as "an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome; or the doctrine that reality is essentially evil, the doctrine that evil overbalances happiness in life." A pessimist is one who views the world through a darkened lens and considers a glass of water filled to the halfway mark as half empty.
Whereas an optimist tries to consider the brighter side sees the same glass as half full and tries to see the brighter side. They are both looking at the same world, the same glass, but their perspectives are opposed to one another. (NOTE: A pessimist is not to be confused with a realist, who is one who accepts a situation as it is and is willing to deal with it accordingly.)
Right away, we might recognize that an attitude of pessimism is the very opposite of an attitude of hope and love. Hope is to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment—or to "expect with confidence." Hope is one description of perfected love. In the well-known “love” passage, the Bible says that “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Christians aspire to love the way this passage describes it, because God exemplifies this perfect kind of love. To be a Christian is to become more like God. If God is love (1 John 4:8), then those descriptions of love describe His characteristics—characteristics that Christians also want to develop over time with the help of the Holy Spirit.
It is impossible to have faith while being pessimistic. Pessimists preview a future without God in it or perhaps a God who doesn’t care or a God who fails us. But Jesus showed us God’s love and offers a bright future (Romans 5:8; Titus 2:13). Jesus gives us reason to trust and hope.
The Bible is a book full of hope (see Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23), and the Lord is the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). From Genesis to Revelation, God weaves His theme of hope into the story of man’s sin and sin’s consequences. While many events recorded in the Bible seemed dark and hopeless in their time, God always offered a way to be restored (see Deuteronomy 30:1-2; Zechariah 1:3). God’s ongoing offer of restoration gives us hope for the future.
We are sinners, doomed by our sin to an eternity without God, and could never save ourselves from it (Romans 3:23; 6:23). In that condition, we had a right to be pessimistic—until Jesus entered the scene. Jesus gives everyone the opportunity to live eternally with God through faith in Him as the Son of God. There is hope!
The human existence no longer needs to be defined as, “Life is hard and then you die.” For the follower of Christ, existence is defined by, "Life may be hard, but Jesus saved me from an eternity of sorrows. The Creator of the Universe has adopted me as His child and will care for me. And when I die, Heaven awaits!” There is hope!
Jesus said to His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because His victories are our victories, the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world should turn any pessimists into optimists (Romans 8:37)—for there is hope.
Many people are naturally questioners, skeptics, and doubters. Sometimes this can be a helpful mindset—like when you're planning your next major education, career, or relationship decisions. Or if you're a scientist exploring our world. Inventions that have saved or improved lives are often borne of someone’s belief that there's a better way. Having characteristics of questioning, doubting the status quo, and curiosity over what-ifs are not in and of themselves sinful. (See: If I doubt my salvation, does that mean I'm not saved?)
Sometimes we can become ensnared in faithless pessimism if we apply these presumptions and beliefs to God, people, or our outlook on life in general. Assuming the worst in people is not a loving or godly pattern. Believing that God can’t handle our trials and difficulties is not only pessimistic but faithless and incorrect! (See: What does it mean that God is omnipotent?)
Viewing life as pointless robs us of the joys we could encounter every day. If you're finding that you're holding to the presumption that "everything and everyone is horrible" most of the time, you may need to consider that your questioning nature might be out of balance with the godly characteristics the Holy Spirit can grow within us (Galatians 5:22-23).
Being optimistic does not mean we must always put on a happy face, view everyone through that filter that makes them look angelic, or be the president of the Optimist Club. Having a hopeful yet realistic attitude is both healthy and biblical. A hopeful perspective helps us grow in our faith as we deal with the things that come around in life—both good and bad.
Yes, we're all sinful people incapable of perfect righteousness this side of Heaven—that's real life. It's important to understand that, especially when a Christian friend lets us down or a church official is caught in a scandal. They may be professing Christians, but they're trapped in earthly bodies bound by the reality of a world broken by sin. We shouldn’t be surprised when others let us down, but we should hope for their restoration—just as we hope for our own when WE inevitably fail to meet God’s standards.
Having a healthy understanding of human beings' earthly limitations helps us to forgive and extend grace when we've been disappointed by someone or something. Believing that God’s love is bigger than our mess-ups and that He's strong enough to overcome even the worst of our sins strengthens our faith and can help us get through difficult times. Recognizing that, through Jesus, God allows us to be forgiven, redeemed, restored, and saved is the best kind of optimism available—and it's available to all!
Viewing life as pointless robs us of the joys we could encounter every day. The human existence no longer needs to be defined as, “Life is hard and then you die.” For the follower of Christ, existence is defined by, "Life may be hard, but Jesus saved me from an eternity of sorrows. The Creator of the Universe has adopted me as His child and will care for me. And when I die, Heaven awaits!” (John 16:33; Romans 8:37). Having a hopeful yet realistic attitude is both healthy and biblical. A hopeful perspective helps us grow in our faith as we deal with things in life—both good and bad.
Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.