Pessimism is the tendency to see the worst in things and expect the worst possible outcome. A pessimist is a person who sees the glass half empty and wants to point it out to others. Pessimists sometimes prefer to call themselves “realists”; however, reality is usually not as dark as they claim it is. Some people are by nature optimistic. They see the sunshine in every day and find the silver lining on every cloud. Others seem to have been born with a darker disposition and see no need to change it since “that’s just the way I am.” But, even if pessimism is just the way we are, should we remain that way?
The opposite of pessimism is hope, and the Bible is a book of hope (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23). The Lord is the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). From Genesis to Revelation, God weaves His theme of hope into the story of man’s sin and sin’s consequences. While many events recorded in the Bible seemed dark and hopeless at the time, God always offered a way to be restored (Deuteronomy 30:1–2; Zechariah 1:3). God’s ongoing offer of restoration should trump our natural pessimism.
Another way to think of pessimism is faithlessness. It is impossible to have faith while being pessimistic. Pessimists preview a future without God in it—or maybe a God who doesn’t care—but Jesus showed God’s love and offers a bright future (Romans 5:8; Titus 2:13).
We were doomed by our sin to an eternity without God, and we had no way to save ourselves (Romans 3:23; 6:23). In that condition, we had a right to be pessimistic. “Life is hard, and then you die” is an accurate statement for those refusing God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life. But, for the Christian, the saying can be modified: “Life is hard, but Jesus is with me. And when I die, heaven awaits!” Jesus told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because His victories are our victories, the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world should turn pessimists into optimists (Romans 8:37).
Extreme pessimism is not the same as realism, just as extreme optimism is not realism. Realists attempt to see life as it actually is, not as they would like it to be. Pessimism acknowledges the facts and then speculates about how much worse they will become. But the Christian, whose faith rules out pessimism, simply acknowledges the facts as they exist and then entrusts them to the miracle-working God (1 Peter 5:7; Proverbs 3:5–6; Psalm 33:20). Psalm 42:5 should become the prayer of everyone with pessimistic tendencies: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Pessimists can retrain their negative thinking to that which honors the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can look at a situation realistically, but we don’t need to stop there. Faith requires us to push past what we can see and understand. Scripture is filled with examples of God working in supernatural ways to turn a truly negative situation into good for His people. Second Kings 6:15–17 recounts the story of Elisha and his servant being surrounded by an army. The servant was terrified, but Elisha calmly told him, “Don’t be afraid. . . . Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (verse 16). He then asked the Lord to open his servant’s eyes. God answered, and the servant was astounded to see the “hills full of horses and chariots of fire” protecting them. Elisha’s optimistic faith in God trumped his servant’s pessimism.
Christians should view their pessimism as a negative trait to be overcome. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He brings with Him love, joy, peace, and a new ability to believe God (Galatians 5:22). Love “always hopes” (1 Corinthians 13:7). We should learn to listen to our own words, which can become negative by habit. When we are intentional about speaking only truth and responding to our situations in faith in God’s Word, our pessimism can change into optimism.