The Mute Optimist at the Open Grave

Cemeteries have an uncanny ability to zip the lips of the optimist. And the younger the deceased, the more mute the optimist becomes. When parents are bent over, weeping beside an abbreviated coffin that holds their dearest treasure in the world, only the stupidest fool would walk up, put his arm around them, grin and say, “Look on the bright side….” or “It could have been worse…”

There is no bright side in a fifteen-year-old gunned down in his classroom.
Nothing could be worse than burying a five-year-old crushed by a drunk driver.

@@“Stay positive” and “the glass is half-full” might sound good as memes, but they sound like nails on a chalkboard to the shattered heart.@@

I’ve often thought that all religious and philosophical discussions would go much better if they took place in the cemetery. Let’s all gather round an open grave, pull up a chair, and discuss the meaning of life. There’s nothing like a deep grave to cut through all the shallow B.S. we’re so prone to quote as gospel truth.

Optimism as a general outlook on life might be helpful when dealing with a flat tire, a rainy day, or a hangnail. After all, no one likes a Debbie Downer. But optimism has limits, severe limits. In fact, when life gets truly serious, when ultimate questions are asked, optimism doesn’t free us to see the truth. It chains us to a lie.

There is nothing positive in the lifeless face of a beloved child, parent, spouse, or friend. What we see there is the work of evil. What we see there is an unnatural force that’s worthy of our hate. Death is not our friend. Death is not natural. Death is not the good work of God.

Death always has been, and always will be, the enemy of humanity.

What we need is something better than optimism. What we need is something that can look evil square in the face, stare into the black eyes of the monster itself, and proclaim, “You will not win. You are defeated already. I have something that, even in the vortex of pain and grief and tears, guarantees me victory.”

What we need isn’t weak and watery optimism but strong and concrete hope. Optimism is up to us, but hope is up to God. A positive outlook is something we can generate, but hope is something only the Lord can give. And give it he does, in only one person—in his Son.

@@Hope is not a wishful stance toward the future, but sure and certain faith in the resurrected God who holds the future in his nail-scarred hands.@@ Hope is the arm that reaches over the chasm of this life, full of horror and suffering and death, to grab hold of what-will-be and bring it back to the here-and-now.

@@Hope clutches a glassful of the wine of the Eschaton and drinks it now, drinks it dry, and reaches forward again and again to have the cup refilled.@@

Hope doesn’t bury its head in the sand but stares, open-eyed, into the truth of this life’s worst horror, and says, “I know the God who went through something even worse, and came out on top. I know the God who was tortured and executed as an innocent victim, and burst forth alive from the tomb while the whole world thought him dead. And he did it all for us. His victory is our victory. His Easter is our Easter. And one day, when he’s finished with his work in this world, he’ll come again to empty every cemetery on the globe with the blast of his trumpet.”

Because of that future reality, we have a present hope. A hope capable of seeing in the face of death a hated but defeated enemy. A hope that knows the child we bury today will be raised to newness of life in the resurrection. A hope that sees beyond school shootings, human trafficking, racism, and all the mayhem of our screwed-up human race to the day when all will be made right, all will be re-made into a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

Christ offers us something infinitely better than a positive outlook on life. He offers us—and gives us—life itself. The life that he himself embodies. And that life is our hope, an anchor of the soul. Even in this storm-tossed existence, that anchor will keep us bound to the God who is always victorious, always for us.