2021: Hope vs. Optimism

I think we are all hoping for 2021 to be better than 2020. Not that God hasn’t been good this year. He certainly has and I know I have a lot to be thankful for. But for most of us, we have been hanging on to just get through this year in hopes of a new year where things will get better. That said, I think we are all realistic and know that things won’t necessarily change just because the calendar changes to a new year.

The concept of hope is an important one to me because I spent a lot of time thinking about it in my studies of Assemblies of God eschatology. The doctrine of the second coming of Christ for the AG is called “The Blessed Hope.” What I discovered in my research is that too often, people who were interested in studying the “signs of the times” in order to discern where they were in God’s timeline of end-time events were also pessimistic in their view of the future. They may have believed in the “blessed hope,” but they sure didn’t sound very hopeful for the future.

In this year of pain, death and chaos, I know many believers have had similar outlooks on the future. A global pandemic, social unrest, injustice, coin shortages, economic downturns and a chaotic political environment is enough to make anyone want to escape. But do we as believers in Christ truly believe that things are bad and only going to get worse? I think many people who study Bible prophecy would answer, “Yes.” Sadly, this belief has turned many miracle-believing people, who should be Christianity’s greatest optimists, into hopeless pessimists who grumble at the fallen world they are waiting to escape.

However, in contrast to this pessimism about the future, I also found many AG ministers with an alternative perspective, one filled with hope for the future. But there was a key ingredient that made the all the difference: the Holy Spirit. Early Pentecostals believed they were living in the end times. But that belief was primarily rooted in what they were witnessed in the outpouring of the Spirit. What God was doing in the altars of the Pentecostal church was a more sure sign of the last days than what was in the newspaper. After all, Peter said, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” This meant that God’s ability to transform lives, fill people the with the power of the Holy Spirit, and heal their bodies was all the sign they needed that Jesus was coming soon. That truth filled them with hope and possibility for the future that was coming.

I am hopeful for 2021 because I believe in the Holy Spirit. As Paul tells us, The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of hope who will “fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). This is not simply positive thinking or optimism. There is a difference. Optimism is the attitudinal outlook created when a person expects something based on empirical evidence. Optimism is simply a wager based on the likelihood that something will take place. The more likely something is, the more optimistic one becomes. This would make hope for a better 2021 either possible or impossible simply by looking at one’s circumstances. Since we know that the state of the world won’t necessarily change just because the calendar changes, optimism is not enough.

Hope is different than optimism. I define hope simply as the belief that things can get better. Hope is an objective reality that is not dependent upon the likelihood of a set of circumstances to inspire it. Hope is derived from objective promises and realities in God, not from empirical potentialities and statistical probabilities. It is a declaration that the world as it exists today is not ok and that God has a better future that awaits us. Transcending the rational realm, this kind of hope flows out of God’s Spirit within us, envisioning a future birthed in the mind of the Spirit. The hope that flows from the Spirit is a hope filled with joy and peace because God is good and so is his future for us.

The hope that flows from the Spirit is a hope filled with joy and peace because God is good and so is his future for us.

I believe with all my heart there is hope for 2021, because I believe in the Holy Spirit’s power to fill us with hope. As Paul said, we have hope because we believe in the Holy Spirit’s ability to fill us with hope, overflowing with the power of the Holy Spirit. That hope envisions the possibilities of the new year and the belief that God is still working and his power is still available. I cannot promise 2021 will be any easier. But I can promise you that God is still pouring out his Spirit on his Church. And as long as the Spirit is moving in our midst, there is hope for you and I in 2021. My prayer for 2021 is the same that it is for you every year, “Come, Holy Spirit and fill your church with hope.”

2 thoughts on “2021: Hope vs. Optimism

  1. This is why I am somewhat open to postmillennialism. If eschatology determines action then shouldn’t our posture be victorious?

  2. Thanks Joel. I think postmillennialism has merit, since there are ways in which the world has improved drastically in the past century. Especially in poverty and infant death, etc. But it has also had come moments of incredible evil. Either way, if our eschatology doesn’t allow for a positive view of the future, I think it misses the point.

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