Phlebotomic is a blog experiment that seeks to gather multiple perspectives around a common prompt, which is provided weekly.

Last week's prompt was "Beauty"...

This week's prompt is "Path"...

04 January 2009

Resolution: A little Less Pessimism

As an adolescent in a sea of Matts and Matthews (and even the occasional Mateo), it became necessary to choose a nickname in order to cleave out some semblance of personhood. As my friends and I were studying Koine Greek at the time - and were apparently oblivious to the nerdiness of it all - we chose Greek names. I became Cairo, the aural analogue of the Greek word for "joyful." And it's been downhill ever since.

I'm not exactly sure when I became a perennial pessimist, but "joyful" has always been more of a goal than a reality. I have never had difficulty accepting the total depravity of man - what amazes me is that there's anything worth redeeming there in the first place. If I were the Almighty, I would have bathed the globe in fire and been done with it a long time ago. I'm pretty much the photo-negative of Joel Osteen, given my firm belief in the poverty gospel and the power of negative thinking. I tend to see the worst in people, probably because I've seen what people are capable of, even those who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

The current financial crisis has been particularly instructive as the detritus from years of orgiastic greed and whorish materialism has finally begun to float to the top of our corrupt financial system. The whole country was caught up in giant housing Ponzi scheme, and even Christians were lusting after their granite countertop idols. And now it's all come crashing down. Hallelujah.

Pessimism is pretty comfortable actually, as it tends to insulate you from disappointment and make the pain in your life, if not absent, at least unsurprising. The problem with this comfort is that God calls us to be joyful, and even lists "joy" as one of the fruits of the Spirit which should characterize a Christian in Galatians 5:22-23. And so I resolve to be a little less pessimistic this year (outright joy will have to wait until 2010).

A great place to start might be a reading of Ecclesiastes. Solomon had some serious joy problems, and spent much of his life in the elusive pursuit of lasting joy, proving that even the very wise can be manic depressive (Yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory... had prozac). After experiencing everything under the sun, the Teacher concludes:
"fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Focusing exclusively on the brokenness of the world - the sin, the violence, the injustice - leads to despair. I once thought that optimists were simply naive, that they hadn't yet received a proper introduction to the ways of the world, or perhaps had chosen to simply overlook the brokenness. But it's possible to observe the brokenness and remain optimistic about God's plan for it all. I think my pessimism is deeply rooted in a sense of helplessness: the wicked prosper, the righteous are oppressed, the world is broken, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

But in the end, He will bring every act to judgement (even those I wasn't aware of). That is an incredibly comforting thought. This promise of ultimate justice really frees us to spend less time obsessing over the ways sinful men destroy the world and more time looking for ways redeemed men may bless it. I regret that I've emphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Though it shocks me to write it, I'm actually somewhat optimistic about God's plans for me in 2009. I eagerly anticipate the new relationships God will give me, the opportunities for spiritual conversations at work, and even a mission of sorts that He's recently laid on my heart. I'll still probably read a lot about the economic collapse, the failure of global capitalism, and the fall of Western civilization, but I'll do so with a little less pessimism.


  1. if you take joy in the downfall of society, where does that fall on the spectrum?!? :)

    the difficult part of joy, i've found, is not in taking it but in giving it away.