16 August 2013

Hopeless pessimism is the necessary foundation of true happiness

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in October 2009. Phil shows how a slavish attachment to this life and material things leads to greed and worry, while rejecting that temptation is the path to true peace and hope.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Life is harsh. Ponder our existence from a purely rationalistic, human perspective, and it's hard to see how anyone could ever be optimistic. Our lives on this cursed planet are headed toward no good end. Everyone has an appointment with death, and the journey to that engagement is impeded by unavoidable potholes of tragedy, misery, heartache, and pain.

Scripture acknowledges the futility and brevity of earthly life. Job 14:1: "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil." "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off" (1 Peter 1:24).

Think that sounds bleak? From a strictly human perspective, that is not even the worst of it: "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

Those verses all sound a note that is prominent in Scripture. In stark contrast to the message that dominates some of the religious channels on television, the Bible never promises anyone health, material prosperity, freedom from strife, comfort, ease, or luxury in this life. On the contrary, those who are faithful are promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

Sounds like a recipe for utter, hopeless pessimism, doesn't it? In reality, that is the necessary foundation of true peace and authentic hope. The innate despair of this present evil world ought to drive us to Christ, the only One who can deliver us from the bondage of sin's curse (Galatians 1:4). And those who do lay hold of Christ gain (through Him) a peace that "surpasses all comprehension" (Philippians 4:7). He grants freedom from the worries and cares of this dreary life—a real and palpable peace that is both incomprehensible and unattainable for those who are seeking fulfillment in earthly things.

It's a simple principle, really: if you set your heart on material goods and earthly pleasures, you are coveting things that are already set aside for destruction. You will therefore gain nothing but disappointment and everlasting misery. But "set your mind on the things above" (Colossians 3:2)—fix your heart on Christ; embrace the spiritual, eternal values of heaven—and you will have peace even in this life.

Therefore, right alongside Scripture's dismal assessment of the sheer hopelessness of this earthly life, we find Christ's simple command to His faithful followers: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on" (Matthew 6:25). After all, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (v. 27).

That, of course, is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the immediate context (starting with verse 19) Christ is attacking the twin sins of greed and worry. Those are no misdemeanors, Jesus says; they are serious, soul-destroying sins that annihilate our peace and undermine righteousness at the most fundamental level. They are hostile to hope and antithetical to genuine faith, and they breed every other imaginable kind of wickedness.


Get your priorities straight, and you will have true peace. Heaven is also the storehouse where your best resources should be invested. You can have true peace if that is where you are keeping your treasure. And if it is not—if you are more concerned about preparing for your retirement or for next year's vacation than you are with preparing for heaven—then your heart is in the wrong place. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v. 21).

If your heart is in the right place, you will certainly have peace, because "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).