Many people believe pessimism to be the mark of a sorrowful and hateful person. This view opines that the pessimist hates humanity and casts a cynical eye on every good deed.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Cynicism is incompatible with a Christian lifestyle. Pessimism is very compatible with a Christian lifestyle, if understood in the right context.
Pessimism – the attitude of expecting and preparing for the worst, is a form of realism. Christianity recognizes that the world is a fallen place, a “vale of tears,” as one prayer (the Hail Holy Queen) puts it. Because of the Fall and our own propensity to sinfulness, man’s lot on earth is suffering.
Wars, plagues, and disasters warn us that despite our time on earth, man is not called to live forever on earth. Christian pessimists realize that, this world cannot provide happiness forever, despite its occasional flashes of joy and even ecstasy. Man’s happiness is to be found in heaven, not on earth.
This does not mean that Christian pessimists sit in perpetual inaction and wait for death and their entrance into glory. Christ’s warnings are far too clear for that.
Nor do pessimists despair of humanity, as many claim. They merely recognize that human nature is fallen, and that the snares of the devil and the sins of fallen man are commonplace in a fallen world. The work of Christian redemption is difficult and requires overcoming human nature – a difficult task.
But neither do pessimists expect peace and happiness on earth. The flesh, the devil, and the world all conspire to lead humanity into sin and darkness, and Our Lord permits incredible suffering on earth to test and purify fallen men. The Christian pessimist recognizes that these attacks will take place, and is ever vigilant against them.
But optimists expect to find goodness in people and in nature – a goodness that is often submerged by anger and sin. The drumbeat of crime, war, suffering and disease wrought by humans and shown every day on the news is a daily rebuke to the naïve attitude of the optimist, who expects the best of people and consistently receives the worst. Man’s inhumanity to man has proven more than enough to shake the faith of many optimists.
But a pessimist is never disappointed by natural disaster or human frailty. He understands that disasters are common, and that human nature, unredeemed by Christ, is fallen. The road to heaven is narrow, as Christ warns us. Most of humanity refuses to cooperate with God’s grace – and the Christian pessimist recognizes that fact. Many will fall astray.
And when man rises above his fallen nature with God’s grace and does repent or perform good deeds, the Christian pessimist is pleasantly surprised, and thanks God in gratitude.
This attitude of Christian pessimism – one of prayer and humility in the face of suffering and sin, and one of joy at every rare good deed – is far more conducive to a Christian lifestyle than sunny, naïve optimism divorced from reality.