Sound Basis for Optimism Today
HISTORIAN and sociologist H. G. Wells, born in 1866, exerted a powerful influence on 20th-century thinking. Through his writings, he expounded his conviction that the millennium would coincide with the onward march of science. Thus, Collier’s Encyclopedia recalls Wells’ “boundless optimism” as he worked unceasingly to advance his cause. But it also notes that his optimism was shattered when World War II erupted.
As Wells came to the realization that “science could work for evil as well as for good, his faith deserted him, and he declined into pessimism,” states Chambers’s Biographical Dictionary. Why did this happen?
Wells’ faith and optimism were based solely on human achievements. When he realized that mankind was incapable of attaining his Utopia, he had nowhere else to turn. Desperation quickly turned into pessimism.
Today, many people have the same experience for the same reason. They are bubbling with optimism when they are young but fall into sullen pessimism as they get older. There are even young ones who give up on the so-called normal way of life and indulge in drug abuse, promiscuity, and other destructive life-styles. What is the answer? Consider the following examples from Bible times and see what basis there is for optimism—past, present, and future.
Abraham’s Optimism Rewarded
In the year 1943 B.C.E., Abraham moved from Haran, crossed the Euphrates River, and entered the land of Canaan. Abraham has been described as “the father of all those having faith,” and what a fine example he set!—Romans 4:11.
Abraham was accompanied by Lot, the orphaned son of Abraham’s brother, and by Lot’s family. Later, when a famine struck the land, the two families moved to Egypt, and in due course they returned together. By this time both Abraham and Lot had accumulated much wealth, as well as flocks and herds. When quarreling broke out between their herdsmen, Abraham took the initiative and said: “Please, do not let any quarreling continue between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we men are brothers. Is not the whole land available to you? Please, separate from me. If you go to the left, then I will go to the right; but if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”—Genesis 13:8, 9.
Abraham, being the senior, could have directed matters in his own favor, and Lot, out of deference to his uncle, could have conceded the choice to Abraham. Instead, “Lot raised his eyes and saw the whole District of the Jordan, that all of it was a well-watered region before Jehovah brought Sodom and Gomorrah to ruin, like the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt as far as Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself the whole District of the Jordan.” With such a choice, Lot had every reason to be optimistic. But what of Abraham?—Genesis 13:10, 11.
Was Abraham being foolhardy, putting the welfare of his family at risk? No. Abraham’s positive attitude and generous spirit paid a rich dividend. Jehovah said to Abraham: “Raise your eyes, please, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, because all the land at which you are looking, to you and to your seed I am going to give it until time indefinite.”—Genesis 13:14, 15.
Abraham’s optimism had a sound basis. It was founded on God’s promise that he would make a great nation out of Abraham so that “all the families of the ground [would] certainly bless themselves by means of [Abraham].” (Genesis 12:2-4, 7) We too have reason to be confident, knowing that “God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.”—Romans 8:28.
Two Optimistic Spies
More than 400 years later, the nation of Israel stood poised to enter Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 6:3) Moses commissioned 12 chieftains to ‘search out the land and bring back word concerning the way by which they should go up and the cities to which they will come.’ (Deuteronomy 1:22; Numbers 13:2) All 12 spies were unanimous in their description of the land’s prosperity, but 10 of them gave a pessimistic report that instilled fear in the hearts of the people.—Numbers 13:31-33.
Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, presented to the people an optimistic message and did all they could to allay their fears. Their attitude and report reflected full confidence in Jehovah’s ability to fulfill his word to return them to the Promised Land—but to no avail. Instead, “all the assembly talked of pelting them with stones.”—Numbers 13:30; 14:6-10.
Moses urged the people to trust in Jehovah, but they refused to listen. Because they persisted in their pessimistic attitude, the whole nation had to wander 40 years in the wilderness. Of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb experienced the rewards of optimism. What was the basic problem? Lack of faith, as the people looked to their own wisdom.—Numbers 14:26-30; Hebrews 3:7-12.
Jonah lived in the ninth century B.C.E. The Bible indicates that he was a faithful prophet of Jehovah to the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, sometime during the reign of Jeroboam II. Yet he refused to accept a commission to go to Nineveh to serve a warning to the people. The historian Josephus says that Jonah “thought it better to slip out of the way” and make for Joppa instead. There he boarded a boat to Tarshish, likely modern-day Spain. (Jonah 1:1-3) Why Jonah took such a pessimistic view of this assignment is explained at Jonah 4:2.
Jonah eventually agreed to accomplish his mission, but he grew angry when the people of Nineveh repented. So Jehovah taught him a fine lesson of compassion by causing the bottle-gourd plant under which Jonah was sheltering to wither and die. (Jonah 4:1-8) Jonah’s feelings of sorrow at the demise of the plant should more correctly have been directed to the 120,000 men in Nineveh who did not “know the difference between their right hand and their left.”—Jonah 4:11.
What can we learn from Jonah’s experience? Sacred service allows no room for pessimism. If we discern Jehovah’s direction and follow through with full confidence, we will enjoy success.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
Optimism Amid Adversities
“Do not show yourself heated up because of the evildoers,” King David declared. “Do not be envious of those doing unrighteousness.” (Psalm 37:1) That is, indeed, wise counsel, for today injustice and crookedness are all around us.—Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Even if we do not envy the unrighteous, however, it is easy to feel frustrated when we see innocent people suffer at the hands of the wicked or when we ourselves are being dealt with unjustly. Such experiences may even cause us to develop a despondent or pessimistic attitude. When we feel that way, what should we do? First, we can keep in mind that the wicked cannot complacently assume that retribution will never come. Psalm 37 goes on to assure us in Ps 37 verse 2: “Like grass they [evildoers] will speedily wither, and like green new grass they will fade away.”
In addition, we can continue to do what is good, remain optimistic, and wait upon Jehovah. “Turn away from what is bad and do what is good, and so reside to time indefinite,” continued the psalmist. “For Jehovah is a lover of justice, and he will not leave his loyal ones.”—Psalm 37:27, 28.
True Optimism Prevails!
What, then, about our future? The Bible book of Revelation tells us about “things that must shortly take place.” Among them, a rider on a fiery-colored horse, depicting war, is revealed “to take peace away from the earth.”—Revelation 1:1; 6:4.
A popular—and optimistic—opinion held in Britain during World War I was that it would be the last major war. In 1916, British statesman David Lloyd George was more realistic. He said: “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.” (Italics ours.) He was right. World War II only accelerated the production of more fiendish methods of mass destruction. Over 50 years later, still no end to war is in sight.
Are these causes for pessimism? By no means, for the vision also describes “a white horse; and the one seated upon it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went forth conquering and to complete his conquest.” (Revelation 6:2) Here we see Jesus Christ as a heavenly King removing all wickedness, riding to establish peace and harmony worldwide.*
As King-Designate, Jesus Christ while on earth taught his disciples to pray for that Kingdom. Perhaps you too have been taught to say the “Our Father,” or the Lord’s Prayer. In it we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, for his will to be accomplished here on earth as in heaven.—Matthew 6:9-13.
Rather than trying to patch up the present system of things, Jehovah, acting through his Messianic King, Christ Jesus, will remove it completely. In its place, says Jehovah, “I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” Under the heavenly Kingdom government, the earth will become a peaceful, happy home for mankind, where life and work will be a constant joy. “Be joyful forever in what I am creating,” says Jehovah. “The work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full.” (Isaiah 65:17-22) If you base your hope for the future on that unfailing promise, you will have every reason to be optimistic—now and forever!
For a detailed discussion of this vision, please see chapter 16 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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H. G. Wells