Exploring Hope: Pessimism or optimism

In the second book of the Bible, called Exodus, the people of Israel are fleeing Pharaoh. God is doing the "impossible-according-man" so that "[his] name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).

Despite God's display of power and love, the people are facing two terrifying prospects. In one direction, they see the menacing horde of Pharaoh bearing down on them. In the other direction, they see the dark and formidable Red Sea. According to human reckoning, if they go back they will die by the hand of Pharaoh. If they go forward, they will be drowned in the sea. Predictably, the people begin to grumble against God: "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?... For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:11-12).

In the face of their grumbling, this is what God declares through the mouth of Moses: "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14). Then, God parted the Red Sea and brought his people through on dry land, destroying the Egyptians. After seeing his salvation, "…the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

This true story has rich application for you and me.

The Israelites would’ve been wrong to fall into a certain kind of optimism. If they optimistically went forward into the Red Sea or back into the Egyptian army, they would likely have died. Being positive and assertive wasn’t the answer. On the other hand, they would also have been wrong  to fall into a certain kind of pessimism. If they had pessimistically prepared for death, they would’ve missed an opportunity to see God‘s power at work in their lives.

You and I also face the extremes of optimism and pessimism in the face of our struggles. Sometimes we want optimistically to rush into situations, trusting in our own strength or intelligence. We think, “I can handle this problem. I’ve got this.” On the other hand, sometimes we look at the tasks ahead and they seem impossible. Therefore, we fall into pessimism. We can’t do what needs to be done; we feel like it’s impossible to cope with our struggles. Things are dark on all sides; we face an army on one side and a dark sea on the other. Should we give up all hope?

In the face of a reckless optimism and a terrified pessimism, God says to us: “The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” Don't fall into the pessimism of the world which says that your situation is impossible. Don't fall into the optimism of false religion which says that you can work it all out out on your own. Rather, fall into the arms of God who can part the sea and bring you through on dry land.

God has done the impossible in the accomplishment of our salvation in Christ. He parted the Red Sea of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rather than trusting in ourselves or giving up hope, we should remember this: “The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” After seeing his mighty power, the Israelites, "…the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31). Our calling is to believe in the Lord and his ultimate servant — the greater Moses— the Lord Jesus Christ who can lead us through the trials of life on dry ground.

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About Will Stern

Originally from Colorado, Will Stern is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Garnet Valley. He majored in violin performance for his undergrad and taught violin for a number of years before being called into ministry. He studied theology at Duke University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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