That’s one of my Dad’s regular sayings. Often, after a family discussion about life, its hardships, difficulties, conflicts, and general messiness, he concludes the conversation by stating, “It’s a great big, wonderful world.” The rest of us sometimes agree, sometimes laugh, and sometimes wish he would just stop being such a perpetual optimist.
I have actually never asked him what he means by that statement, but I know him well enough to have a pretty good idea. By the way, yes, he is a perpetual optimist. That statement, however, is driven by far more than just natural optimism. I think when he says it he means several things:
1. He means an optimistic perspective on life is always better than a pessimistic one. This is basic human psychology. Seeing the glass half full is better than seeing it half empty. That attitude is better for me and for those around me. Certainly, some people are wired better for that attitude than others (he is one; I am not). Still, from a daily life perspective, optimism is a healthier approach than pessimism.
2. He really does mean it is great big, wonderful world. This is God’s creation. It may be a fallen creation and a creation in trouble, but it is God’s creation and it is good. To behold the beauty of nature, to experience the bitter-sweet in human relationships, and to enjoy the pleasures of a good book, a pleasant memory, a delicious meal, and a funny joke, all in the midst of the pain, suffering, and messiness of life, yes, it is a great, big wonderful world.
3. He means it eschatologically. That is, he knows God is ultimately and finally in charge. He trusts in God’s plan and purpose. He rests in the fact that history, with all its ups and downs, is moving forward to its final consummation. He looks forward to the day when those who have the right to be called children of God will live in a great big, wonderful new world.
As we leave behind us the mess of 2016, what can we learn for the mess of 2017 and beyond? How can affirming that this is “a great big, wonderful world” see us through the uncertainty of this and every year?
1. It can help us remember that this or that, too, shall pass. Whether you like or dislike “this” or “that,” it will certainly pass. There is really nothing new under the sun. See, we are all too often guilty of the error of “presentism.” That is, we have little or no historical perspective. One aspect of that error is to think of all those in the past as less enlightened than we are. The other aspect is to think of all those in the past as better off than we are. In the latter case, we tend to think of our present situation as the worst of times, of ourselves as the biggest victims of history, and as those who went before us as purer, more innocent and blissfully oblivious to the realities of life. Well, read a little bit of history. It has always been a mixed bag of good and bad. These times, however good or bad they may be, shall pass because God is in charge of this great big, wonderful world.
2. At the same time, these days, as good or bad as they may be, can and will be used by God in the life of the Christ follower for his or her good. But, read Romans 8:28 carefully. That “good” has nothing to do with easy street, but has everything to do with being conformed to the likeness of the Son. Moreover, that transformation, though it may at times be painful and difficult, is the best part of being a disciple in God’s great big, wonderful world.
3. Therefore, as we are being transformed, we can make the choice to mostly build up or mostly tear down. We can choose to be an encourager even as we critique ideas, express opinions, disagree with others, or express dismay over this broken world. I certainly don’t always do that, but I really want to learn how. All this does not mean we withdraw from serious political and social engagement, from expressing critical observations, and even from passionate debate. We have an obligation to address the world’s personal, corporate, and structural sin. However, can I do all that and still not be a jerk? In the midst it all, can I still build up and be an encourager? How can I find at least something to be positive about?
Bottom line, more often than not I need to back up a bit, take a deep breath, and agree that all that is going on in our country and in the world may actually be part of what makes ours a “great big, wonderful world.”