A few years ago I was in a bookstore in Nashville and happened upon two books I had never seen before. I bought them both on the spot. One was “The Optimist’s Guide to History;” the other was “The Pessimist’s Guide to History.” While I was writing the check, the clerk looked at me quizzically and said, “I’ve sold a lot of these books, but nobody’s ever bought both of them at the same time.” I said, “Well, I guess most people are either optimists or pessimists, but I’m just a preacher looking for sermon illustrations.”
As I thought more about it, I realized that it was likely that optimists often bought the optimist’s version and that pessimists frequently bought the pessimist’s version; which means that most of them weren’t really looking for the truth – they were looking for evidence to bolster their already established opinions.
So, it’s not just politicians who are like that; most of us are, most of the time. Most of what we refer to as “the truth” or “just the facts” are actually those tidbits of data which bolster our world view. Good enough. There’s really nothing all that wrong with that; our human-ness hardly allows us to do anything else.
The problem comes when we treat the truth of the Gospel like a factoid to be marshalled in defense of our various, time-limited, fallible and self-interested, political and social positions.
The truth spoken of here is not a factoid, a data byte; it is the living, active, moving Word of God, which breaks through both our optimism and our pessimism and rearranges our head and our heart in ways we never imagined. It is a truth that smashes all our preconceptions and ideas and reconstructs them on the basis of God’s love and God’s grace.
That kind of God, bringing that kind of truth, is not at all interested in whether or not we are optimists or pessimists, doesn’t really care about our take on the world’s various political and religious differences, could care less about whether we pray standing up, sitting down or somewhere in between, etc. etc. That kind of God doesn’t want to be a “part of our spirituality,” an expression of our deeper yearnings. That kind of God is nor after either our spare time or our spare change; the eternal God of truth wants us.
Christian writer and preacher Henry R. Rust writes of visiting a tiny Christian congregation in a village in Kenya. It met in the open air beneath a thatched roof. When it came time for the offering; a round, flat basket was passed up and down the rows of benches as people placed coins and bills in it.
The basket came to a young woman with two small children. She took the basket and laid it on the ground in front of her. She took off her sandals and then stood in the basket, head bowed, praying silently for a full minute, then she stepped out of the basket and passed it on.