Column: Don't always look on the bright side of life

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

One aspect of our modern culture I struggle with is this over emphasis on our virtues of positive thinking.

According to those who peddle this virtue, we are meant to constantly feel happy and successful.

There is absolutely no room or even any acknowledgement of the negative aspects of life. It is illustrated for me by the lady in one church where I ministered, whose mantra was, ‘I’m happy and healthy and on the victory side’.

It didn’t matter if the circumstances told a different story, if something was badly wrong it was always painted in a positive light.

I also come across it in schools either with something superficial written on the wall about how easy it is to fulfil your dream or in a travesty of sports day where no-one must be seen to fail.

Part of the problem is a lack of understanding of indwelling sin. Unfashionable maybe, but it helps us to cope with the pain of imperfection and be a lot more open, honest and realistic about the human condition.

The great apostle, Paul, was not too holy to speak about disobedient urges. He eloquently spoke of the internal war between his old, proud, sinful self and his God-given nature. “The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up,” he said. I have seen enough of American culture to admire their positive outlook and affirmation of people.

Usually it is very genuine. One American student told me how he and his classmates from an early age would learn to be affirming.

One member of the class sat in the middle of the group and the rest would be invited to be specific in their appreciation and affirmation of that person. It had to be genuine.

That culture is to be welcomed but it must also allow room for us to recognize, like Paul, that the power of sin within us keeps sabotaging our best intentions.

The mother who once told me her children would never go wrong was very positive but very misguided.

She needed to have some knowledge of the power of sin. There are too many people who have been seriously ill, or found themselves in some kind of crisis, who don’t appreciate looking on the bright side. If we are positive and optimistic all the time we run the risk of the shock being all the greater when things do go wrong for us.