The odds are never in our favor. . . or why optimism isn’t the solution for pessimism

April 1

Psalm 140

From men of greed and violence, O Lord, my soul release;
They evil in their hearts devise, and wars they would increase.
As keen as any serpent’s fangs, so sharp their tongues they make,
And underneath their lips there hides the venom of a snake.

Guard me from men of violence, O Lord, from lawless force;
Their purpose is to bring me down, to overthrow my course.
The proud hid traps and cords for me; They have a secret net,
Along the wayside spread for me, and snares for me they set.

But I have said unto the Lord, “In truth my God art Thou.”
Jehovah hear my voice when I in supplication bow.
My Lord Jehovah is for me salvation’s strength and stay;
He is the cover for my head when comes the battle day.

Grant not, O Lord, that wicked men see their desire draw nigh;
And do not help them in their plots to lift themselves on high.
As for the head of all those men who have surrounded me,
By all the mischief of their lips, let them now covered be.

Let burning coals upon them fall; to flames let them be cast;
And into deepest pits from which they cannot rise at last.
Let not the slanderer on earth enjoy security;
Let evil hunt the violent and smite relentlessly.

I know Jehovah will maintain the cause of those oppressed;
He will defend the right of those by poverty distressed.
And then the righteous to Thy name, their thanks will surely give;
And they that are upright in heart shall in Thy presence live.


Because of my brutal realism at times, people often mistake me for a pessimist. Early in our friendship, in response to my grim assessment of a particular situation, my friend asked me in a slightly sarcastic tone, “So J.D. are you a pessimist or an optimist?” “Neither,” I quickly retorted, and just as I was about to tell him I was a realist, a new word came to me with the suddenness of certainty. “I’m a hopefulist.”

Pessimism and optimism are both boxed in ways of thinking. They form a finite continuum somewhere along which our general disposition tends to hover. Most of us would claim neither end of the spectrum, preferring some version of realism. We like to call it a “third way.” We frame it like a pragmatic compromise.

The Psalmist shows us a different way. Rather than fret endlessly in analysis over the pros and cons of this move or the other and the probable outcomes, the Psalmist sings his way into the Divine perspective. The Psalmist refuses to ignore the reality that he is hiding in a cave. He will not put a nice face on miserable circumstance and apparent defeat. He initially comes off as a pessimist. Neither does the singer succumb to the optimistic possibilities of conventional warfare. He refuses the overtures of positive thinking. He remembers God.

The Psalms simply do not exist on the two dimensional human continuum  of pessimism and optimism and realistic outcomes. These songs create another spectrum altogether. The tribe of the Psalmist operates in the realm of memory and imagination. We remember what God has done. We imagine what he is capable of. We do not fret as to whether the odds are “ever in our favor” precisely because we are not betting on ourselves. The odds do not matter one whit to those who are already “all-in.” It is God with whom we deal, not our detractors or enemies.

Yes, I am a hopefulist.

“And he must win the battle.” 

The Psalmist teaches us the soundtrack of hope. Do we have the audacity to sing along?  CLICK HERE.

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

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