Someone defined a pessimist as a fellow who has had to live with an optimist. Few things in life distress one more than having to face a disastrous situation with someone who cannot be serious. I suppose it is better to have a congenitally optimistic individual around than one who is constantly pessimistic—but not much better, for one needs a good dose of doubt and questioning if he is to keep his mental health. The dispensers of mindless cheer fail to instill confidence precisely because people begin to see that, like propagandists for any particular point of view, they have become blind to the reality of the situation.
Not only is this shallow optimism unrealistic; it is evil. Until the prophets of Israel could crack the veneer of the false confidence that covered their society, they were helpless. Amos, for example, had to smash the idea that Israel's role as God's chosen people guaranteed them His protection regardless of their morals and ethics. Today the sweet singers who fill some of our pulpits and write so many of our books not only misdirect people, they seduce and betray them. Before they can find salvation, the individuals who feel that "something is bound to turn up" must come face-to-face with the realization that nothing has turned up and never will unless they repent, which is to say, unless they make the painful decision to turn in another direction. We must face the patent evilness of false optimism.
Many politicians operate on a philosophy of keeping the facts from the public as long as possible. But it is demagoguery to assume that one knows what is best and that one can better deal with economic, political, or moral dangers if those dangers do not get into the public press. To let a nation think that all is well when all is not well is betrayal.
The political leader who truly serves the people is the one who is not afraid to let them know the truth, for a democracy is based upon the proposition that the populace must be enlightened. When, in the midst of one of the most dangerous crises England has ever faced, Winston Churchill dared to declare how bad things were and what sacrifice had to be made, the British people entered one of their finest hours.
Some preachers fall into the same trap that has snared many a politician. By always insisting that "there is good news tonight," they win a certain popularity. They heal the people lightly and bring comfort to those who are already comfortable. Such leaders betray their com missions and no longer speak for the living God. The admonition addressed to Timothy still applies: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:3-5, RSV).
The Bible implies that preachers have more to do than simply to give the people what they want. Theirs is the task of penetrating the shallow optimism of the generation in order to bring people face-to-face with reality. —Rex D. Edwards.