Many of an earlier generation will remember the reaction of many in the church when Norman Vincent Peale published his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, in 1952. Since Peale attempted to connect psychological principles with religious ones as dominant factors in a successful, happy life, he quickly was repudiated by more traditional religious leaders.
Being no expert on all that Peale taught and did, I cannot evaluate all his methods and conclusions. However, I am intrigued by what is simply implied in the title of this famous book. Does optimism, which seems to be another word for positive thinking, have a place in the mental make-up of those who adhere to the Bible? What if any is the relationship between biblical faith and optimism or positive thinking.
The above questions often arise, explicitly or otherwise, in church lessons, publications, and sidebar discussions. We have probably all heard that occasional sermon about how no Christian should run around with a long face, since we anticipate such a wonderful afterlife and generally enjoy God's favor. Of course, theologically, the average Christian must concurrently deal with the understanding that the world is basically a flawed place, full of sinful men and destined to a prophesied degeneration and ultimate destruction at the hands of God. The overall church message is, therefore, conflicted and disconcertingly so.
In Matthew 21:21 Jesus refers to the great power of faith in altering physical reality. Since verse 22 speaks about asking in prayer, we likely assume that the faith in question is faith in God, the one to whom prayer is normally directed. In fact, in the Christian tradition, faith almost exclusively means man's faith in and reliance on God.
However, if one considers all that Jesus taught, especially in the Golden rule, we can rightfully conclude that faith in the broadest sense involved faith in ourselves and mankind in general. Treating my neighbor as myself is hardly benevolent if I don't have faith in or believe in my own worthiness and treat myself accordingly. Even more challenging is the implication of Jesus' instruction to love even our enemies. At first glance, this seems suicidal. Why would any sane person do so? The only conceivable answer is that by loving others, even those who oppose us, we demonstrate a faith in humanity's basic worthiness, which ultimately will transform them and us, eliminating the animosity that segregates us.
Faith in God and His commitment to mankind, faith in myself as one sustained by the power of the Creator, and faith in other human beings as worthy children of that same Creator- all these aspects of faith are illustrated in the words and life of Jesus. Such faith should not be the basis for pessimism. Can faith in God as mankind's divine benefactor exist together with a lack of faith in me and other men? Can I claim faith in Jesus and what He taught and still distrust myself and others as unworthy? All these forms of faith seem unavoidably connected within the ethical standard promoted by Jesus.