I used to think of optimism and positive thinking as nice, but not particularly rational, ways of being in the world. I even associated them with naivete. Wow, has my perspective changed! Now I recognize that I’m being most naive whenever I think of myself as a victim of my circumstances. This is the ultimate abdication of responsibility. Through my own experience in the last year, and through a new and renewed understanding of my Christian faith tradition, I am beginning to understand just how responsible I am for the world around me. When I say I am responsible, I have in mind multiple senses of the word “I.” “I” includes not only this individual named “Evan,” but also the collective “I”—the whole of humanity. Yet this “I” extends even beyond that. For if I am God-breathed, a child of God, created in the image of God, i.e. created in the image of my Creator, then I am a creator too—an agent of God’s creation. In fact, that may be the most significant aspect of my existence.
“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) We have been given a Divine injunction to create. We are “God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Ephesians 2:10) Moreover, we are still being created. We are constantly changing and growing, living and dying and giving rise to new generations. This Creation that we find ourselves to be a part of is ongoing—still developing, still unfolding. It is not a past event.
Abraham was directly and personally given the injunction—and promise—to create. “And I will make my covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly… I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” (Genesis 17:2,6) The Apostle Paul calls Abraham “the father of us all” because of his great faith:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:16-17)
Since God works in us, we possess that same power to “call into being things that were not.” That power is called faith. It is the power to create a vision and hold steadfastly to it, even and especially when we don’t yet see how the vision could possibly be fulfilled.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)
This is easier said than done, but as long as we do not “waver through unbelief,” our vision will be fulfilled. Jesus attests to the fact that this power was not reserved only for the patriarchs:
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)
We usually don’t take this literally. But for those who have experienced miracles as a result of their faith, this statement of Jesus makes perfect sense.
What is faith exactly? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) How can hoped-for things have a substance? What evidence can “things not seen” have? Your faith is the evidence. This turns our conventional notions of causality upside down. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:3) If this is true, and if the universe is still being formed, then it continues to be true that what is seen is not made out of what is visible. Who holds this power to create out of nothing? God alone. And yet… how does God work in the world? Through us! We are given not only the command to create but the means to fulfill it—“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)
Everything that now exists was once only imagined. That includes both human creations and humans themselves, as well as the rest of the natural world. We once only existed in the mind, or imagination, of God. Then God said, “Let there be light” and spoke the world into existence. Even today, the manifest world that we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell is unfolding from the mind of God as He continues to “call into being things that were not.” God’s creativity is still at work. Among God’s creations are beings which themselves possess the creative power of imagination—having been made “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:27) We are those beings, and we have a choice. We can choose to deny this power, saying that we don’t have imagination, or that it doesn’t matter what scenarios we imagine or what thoughts we think; we can insist that life happens to us, not the other way around. Or we can humbly and reverently acknowledge this power, taking responsibility for our thoughts, recognizing that our imagination has creative power, whether for good or for ill.
I now know that my thoughts and my imaginations are the most important things I can attend to. When I let my mind go willy-nilly, I create haphazardly. But when I focus my mind, “taking captive every thought,” making every effort to guard my heart from poisonous thoughts—when I take prayer seriously and affirm with all my being the goodness of God (true optimism); then I see the fruits of the Spirit manifest in my life. The creative power that flows within me and all around me does its work. I begin to function as I should, in alignment with my true nature as a child of God.
Don’t be naive. Your thoughts matter. If you focus on what could go wrong, then you are attracting that very thing you fear. Jesus and Paul both warned against worry. To worry is to put your faith in evil instead of good.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Cast your cares on the Lord. Release your fears as “false evidence appearing real.” Focus your mind—with thanksgiving—on your highest desires, and for each desire, as Jesus says, “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)