Man, created a religious being, is dependent on faith. He has a mind and reasoning abilities, just as he has lungs and the power of respiration. But reason does not characterize man's nature any more than does breath. Man is a creature of faith because he was created and placed in a world that is greater than he and which does not owe its existence or explanation to him. Still, we regularly elevate ourselves as paragons of wisdom and understanding, sometimes even while professing dependence on God.
Twenty-three years ago, when I was preparing to leave Northern Virginia and come work with my father at Chalcedon, a minister commented to me that he liked my father's ideas, except his belief in postmillennialism. "I just don't see that happening in today's world," he said. I have heard many similar comments since that time. But his words betrayed the error of his thinking. In speaking of what he saw, he was not talking about eschatology which is belief about the end times. He was talking about foresight or prescience, personal knowledge of that which is to come. He could look about him and rationally say that his eye saw and his mind could detect no evidence of God's victory within history. But prescience is the weakest basis for anything, especially optimism. It is of little value when we know we are so fallible. Prescience is usually about seeing the present and extrapolating it into the future.
Eschatology is not about what we see and understand, nor is it about what we think. It is about what we believe about the end of human existence. We can be optimistic about our end and the world we see about us if we believe in God. We can be optimistic because we believe in Who He is and what He says. Our eschatology, or doctrine of last things, must come from our theology, our doctrine of God. It is our doctrine of God that determines our view of last things. Some with very negative end-time beliefs are very optimistic. This can be true because it is great faith in God that makes one optimistic. Despite gloomy end-time scenarios, many still have great confidence because of their faith in God.
What we believe must not be based on what we see; this is the fallacy of rationalism. If you are a rationalist, your mind can take you almost anywhere and convince you of your wisdom therein. What we believe about the end times must be based on Who we believe in; we must see the big picture. History is God's device. It has a beginning and an end. God is, was, and always shall be on the throne. We can therefore be confident that all things work together for good to them that love God. We know our victory over sin and death is assured because of Christ's atonement two thousand years ago. Why not be optimistic, when "the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18)?
So, why do Christians tend to be so pessimistic? They tend to see only what they see with their eyes. This is rationalism, but Scripture tells us to see in terms of what we believe. Scripture calls this walking by faith. We serve a mighty God. How mighty is our faith in Him?
When we see only with our eyes (as good rationalists do) we focus on ourselves and our world. We see all the sin, evil, and rebellion. We see so much of it that we can start to think of it as normative. Even those with good theology can so focus on evil that they mentally put the kingdom of God into a remoteness that is inconsistent with their confession. Theoretical, theological optimists are too often practicing pessimists. For years my father had a yellowed card on his refrigerator which read, "Why pray when you can worry?" It is only by walking in terms of our faith that we avoid looking about and being consumed in worry and pessimism.
Men do tend to think and act in terms of their understanding of what they see (both physically and theologically) before them. An end-time theology of doom and gloom does tend to discourage even those with genuine and submissive faith. If they are taught to believe that God is instrumental in the world's downward spiral, they must overcome a great tendency not to act in a defeatist manner. Sometimes their desire to be optimistic takes on a peculiarly twisted, dark side. Too many times I have heard, "Isn't it wonderful that there is so much evil? It means Jesus is coming soon." Then too, there is a logic to pessimism if you believe God chooses to be marginal in history. It takes extreme effort not to act and think in terms of what you believe. If you believe that evil must come to control the world, you will feel helpless and overwhelmed in its various manifestations. Few such people are able to avoid the resulting escapism and defeatism.
It is all right to be saddened by sin and to lament evil. Christ wept over Lazarus and Jerusalem. But always we must take solace not in what we see, but in Whom it is we believe. The Psalmist tells us to hope in God. When we are confident that our times are in God's sovereign, caring hands, we can learn hope because the end times are in those same hands. Walk by sight as a rationalist and your future is one of worry and pessimism. Walk by faith and the future is as bright as God is good.