Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Somebody once said that optimists invented the airplane (Orville and Wilbur Wright) but a pessimist invented the parachute (Louis-Sebastien Lenormand).
Of course, rarely are things so simple and so straightforward, especially when you discover the parachute was actually conceived long before the introduction of the airplane! The “modern” parachute was created to escape from ill-fated hot air balloons. Two people might look at the very same thing but wind up coming to very different conclusions.
I was reminded of this fact the other day while reading an intriguing essay by David Brooks in The New York Times. Titled, “Relax, We’ll Be Fine,” Mr. Brooks concluded, quite decisively, that “despite all the problems, America’s future is exceedingly bright.”
Would you agree?
Throughout the essay, Mr. Brooks was basing most of his comments on the findings of two new books. The first, by Joel Kotkin, is titled, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. The second is by Stephen J. Rose: Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis.
Both works revolve around a plausible premise. In the first, Kotkin suggests the influx of one-hundred million new people over the course of the next forty years will help to revitalize communities and add a fresh dynamic of intellect and meaning to small towns and medium-sized cities.
Mr. Rose’s perspective is equally positive—but rooted in pure practicality. With more people, Rose concludes, comes more demand—and Americans are great at producing the things people love to buy.
I have always appreciated those who take the long view of things. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressures and panic of the present. But the longer you live, the more you appreciate the predictability of cycles and the ups and downs of human emotion.
If we need ever doubt this, all you’d need to do is look to the writer of Ecclesiastes (1:9): “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Mssrs. Brooks, Kotkin and Rose are mainly looking at America through the secular prism of financial and demographic statistics. Despite the temporary gloom of a recession, they have concluded, as Mark Twain once said of the music of Richard Wagner, “It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.”
Are they onto something?
There is a good reason why this was the most-emailed column of the week on The New York Times website. People are anxious and eager for good news. I can’t blame them.
A critic of such cockeyed optimism in the face of our current troubles might easily label these three gentlemen as delusional. Either deliberately or not, they have chosen to ignore the country’s moral crisis, out-of-control (and unsustainable) government spending, the diminishing of the work ethic, the extension of government’s ever-increasing tentacles into the private sphere (which is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse), the unbridled sexual content that dominates much of our media and entertainment offerings, growing encroachments upon religious liberty on an almost-daily basis, and the fact that our institutions of higher learning continue to be dominated by very bright—but very socially liberal—minds.
Such an analysis would be correct. But the Christian critic wouldn’t—or at least shouldn’t—end there. Our faith demands that we look at things through the long lens. In the end, we know the final score. Our joy is not dependent upon circumstance. Our optimism is rooted in the promise and assurance of Christ’s return.
We remain engaged and care very deeply about our culture, but the Kingdom is not here; we are called to be in the world, but not of it.
Candidly, at the very least, it was refreshing to pick up the paper and just see some good news for a change! We live in a wonderful country and have been mightily and richly blessed. If you woke up this morning, I have good news for you: God has a plan and a purpose for you. Grumbling and mumbling our way through tough times will get us nowhere.
I’ll leave you with words that have greatly encouraged me in times of strain and struggle. I pray they likewise encourage you:
I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life.