“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else” (Sir Winston Churchill 1874–1965).
As we are surrounded by catastrophes, economic meltdown, wars and rumours of wars, optimism is sometimes denounced as a pointless concept. Yet this word is of great importance as optimism plays a vital part in our lives. The word comes from the Latin ‘optimus’ meaning very good, or the best. Its popularity is due to the philosopher Leibnitz, one of the great thinkers of the millennium, born in 1646. Leibnitz lived at a time when people were falling into the bad habit of blaming God and the universe for everything. Scepticism was rife. “How can we believe in God when there is so much evil in the world?” “Life is a curse.” Such ideas as these were floating through the tired mind of the dying seventeenth century. Liebnitz brought his unrivalled wealth of knowledge to the task of curing the world. His childhood, adult life and death bear testimony to the optimism of this devout Christian. His argument that the existing universe is the best of all possible universes gained wide acceptance among the thinkers then and to this present day.
No doubt there are many who hold similar sceptical points of view. Continuing conflict in many areas, world economic problems and with it unemployment and the severity of natural disasters do not overly inspire us as we face the future in 2017 with its dire predictions. But optimism means, first and foremost, faith in the goodness of life. Whatever the purveyors of gloom may choose to think, there is not a lamb in the fields, not a bird in the sky, not a puppy chasing its own tail, not a child playing, who treats life as a curse. All young things are glad to be alive. If us older creatures appear sad and mournful then perhaps we have ourselves to blame, at least in part. In any event there is enough beauty and happiness on this planet to make us certain that it is good to be alive. Most of us can see and hear; run and walk and can think and smile. We can take a part in the great drama of human history. As Dr. Johnson once said, “It is worth a thousand pounds a year to have the habit of looking on the bright side of things.”
Note that word habit. We can cultivate this attitude of mind. We can practise this art. We can enrich our hearts with happiness by constantly keeping our eyes on the bright side of things. And this is optimism: a habit of gratitude and happiness. As G.K. Chesterton, the English essayist said: “Gratitude is happiness combined with a sense of wonder.” The poet Robert Browning, who lived in the 19th century, sang of faith when all the thinkers were doubting, and when it looked as if science had no justification for optimism. He was a notably strong man, in faith, thought and word. He believed intensely in the most vital truth that can encourage us today: “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” That great faith strengthened him throughout his life and kept him young to the day of his death, aged 77.
And we can walk forward in to the future if we have the right attitude – it is an exciting time of new technology, new opportunities and new challenges. Today as I send this message I am in my new home at Gympie, in my 87th year, close to my family, and praising God. Sure there will be problems but we can all make our contribution to the solution, no matter how small – pebbles make mountains, raindrops make oceans. The world is still a wonderful place in which to live, to create and to admire and to give thanks to the Almighty God through whom we live and breathe and wonder.
Have a good week. Pastor Ron Clarke.