Every NFL season, I embrace pessimism with a passion. Even when my Indianapolis Colts were rattling off perennial double-digit wins by mid-November during the Peyton Manning regime, I always assumed a gut-wrenching loss was imminent.
It’s an emotional predisposition that has stuck with me to this day. Those who follow me on social media know that I’m good for at least a half-dozen despair-laden tweets every autumn Sunday afternoon. It’s become part of my schtick. Everyone knows I will give voice to their worst doom and gloom nightmare scenarios, even if the Colts are up 20 points heading into the fourth quarter. I can snatch an assumed loss out of the surest of victories. It’s a gift.
When my wife harasses me and asks “why are you such a pessimist all the time?” I will quickly retort, “because pessimism only has upside potential!”
I just thought I was being funny, but apparently I was being scientific. Seventeenth-Century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, was the first to introduce the world to probability theory. Pascal’s Wager is still discussed in math and philosophy circles today. Without getting too deep into the theory itself (science was my worst subject), the oversimplified gist is this:
A decision that has the potential for huge consequences will always outweigh a decision that only has minor consequences.
So what does this have to do with my pessimism predisposition? Allow probability theory to explain:
If I head into kickoff assuming my Colts are going to get their butts kicked, I will either 1) get what I expected or 2) stumble into an exhilarating emotional windfall when they come out on top. I’ve mitigated my emotional risk. There is only the status quo or a huge upside.
Hope, on the other hand, carries a 50% chance of disappointment. There’s nothing worse than being absolutely certain your favorite team is going to dominate only to watch them fall apart in front of your eyes. And since I’m emotionally risk-averse, it’s just safer to be a pessimist. A 100% chance of no disappointment is better than a 50% chance of elation.
Trust science people.
All jokes aside, I have to be honest – I feel some conviction here. Pessimism can sneak into more important realms of my life than just my love of sports – business deals, ministry opportunities, relationships, (global pandemics?).
We couch it in lofty-sounding terms like “realist” or “pragmatist,” but the truth is, many of us have just embraced a negative perspective on life. Pessimism is easy. It’s the currency of our culture, the driver of media attention, the ultimate manipulator of human behavior. Heck, even science says it’s the only safe bet.
But I don’t think pessimism is congruent with the Christian faith. We are people of hope.
People of Hope
Hope feels riskier because it’s the only quadrant of Pascal’s Wager that seems to have downside potential. But hope is actually the true reflection of our Christian reality. No matter what happens around us, the promises of God are ours forever.
He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
Even when we walk through death’s valley we don’t have to fear, because He is with us. (Psalm 23)
He will supply everything we need from His eternal riches. (Philippians 4:19)
Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38)
He promises eternal life through Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:23)
Jesus is making all things new. (Revelation 21:5)
Pastor Glenn Packiam of New Life Church in Colorado has written extensively on this subject. I love how he sums it up:
“We are not optimists; nor are we escapists. We do not trust in the myth of progress. Christian hope is uniquely shaped by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and by the promise of our own future resurrection.”
Hope doesn’t mean we can’t make poor decisions, that bad things won’t happen, or that faith somehow shields us from the pain and suffering of living in a fallen world. But it does mean we are ultimately on a winning trajectory. That resurrection is our destiny.
The Gospel Wager says “always bet on hope.” I want to live with more hope.
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” —Romans 15:13
Pessimism is easy, but we are people of hope.