Growing up in New Jersey, across the Hudson River in New York City is the home of Marble Collegiate Church, a congregation of the Reformed Church of America. As a youth I remember watching their pastor, the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale on television. Peale also founded the popular devotional guide, Guideposts read by millions of people.
But more than anything, Dr. Peale was known for the phrase, "The Power of Positive Thinking". In fact one his best selling books had that phrase as its title. There is something attractive in such an expression. It is clear the power of negative thinking is just that, "Negative". We have all been with groups and individuals that are so negative and cynical, we try to exit stage right at the earliest opportunity and find the nearest shower. Yet the marketing of the phrase seemed a bit pollyanna for me in the midst of the negative influences that surrounded us then and now.
The key issue is the source of the hope that underlies such optimism. Some see the hope coming from our circumstances. Others would suggest, hope springs totally from within the individual. We might say that is a hopeful or optimistic person. A third approach would suggest that ultimately all hope must spring from something outside our circumstances and ourselves.
After recently reading the book of Jeremiah, I became convinced the the prophet was the ultimate optimist. Say what? "Optimist? Wasn't Jeremiah known as the 'weeping prophet'?" "Didn't the king complain that he always had bad news for the him and the nation?" Indeed that is true. So what would qualify Jeremiah as the "Ultimate Optimist"?
First in spite of the fact the Babylonian Armies surrounded Judah and at any point could lay siege and dismantle Jerusalem, God instructs Jeremiah in chapter 32 to invest in a family farm. And though this was no fire sale, where Jeremiah could buy low and later make a nice prophet, Jeremiah pays what might be a reasonable price for the field in in spite of the dire circumstances. God in verse 15 gives the rationale for the purchase, "For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.". God had judged his chosen nation and they were about to suffer the consequences of their rebellion at the hands of the Babylonians, Yet God was not finished with his people. The parcel of farm land was a foreshadowing of what is yet to come. Hope for the future is still alive. Hence an answer to the above question, hope is not anchored in the circumstances that surrounds us. If it were the old Hee Haw song would be our chorus, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me Deep, dark depression, excessive misery If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all Gloom, despair, and agony on me."
Second, neither does our hope spring from within ourselves. There are some days I am a cock-eyed optimist, while others, a doomsday prophet. My personal experience is like the Arkansas barometer on a spring day, when a sultry warm front is confronted with cold air arising from the Northwest. "Get to your safe place, a twister cometh! " Jeremiah 29 lays the foundation of our hope, when the prophet brings to the people a word from God. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." (Jeremiah 29:11-14) Our hope is anchored neither from our circumstances, nor from within our personal experiences, but hope is ultimately rooted in a Word that comes from God to us and carries us through the darkness into his light. Therefore in spite of all outward appearances, Jeremiah is the ultimate optimist.