Why Do Optimists Live Longer? Trusting God When it's Hard to Trust God
by Jim Denison
Here’s some good news: to live longer, focus on good news in the news.
A study now being reported by the Washington Post notes that people with the highest levels of optimism enjoyed a life span between 11 and 15 percent longer than those who were the least optimistic. Research links optimism to eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and being less likely to smoke cigarettes. Optimists also tend to manage stress in healthy ways.
We can use such optimism these days.
In this news this morning: A California woman was caught on video dousing a man with gasoline and then setting him on fire. A fifteen-year-old boy was charged with murder after allegedly stabbing a fourteen-year-old to death on a subway platform in New York City. A wildfire in Yosemite National Forest is uncontained at this writing; at least eighteen were killed after a Russian missile struck an apartment building in eastern Ukraine; at least fifteen are dead in a mass shooting in South Africa.
Since studies clearly link religious commitment with a more optimistic outlook, you and I should be especially positioned to benefit from such positivism even in challenging times. But as I have learned personally in recent days, trust in God does not guarantee optimism, especially when God does not do what we are trusting him to do.
WHY I AM DISAPPOINTED WITH GOD
I underwent four-level spinal fusion surgery on July 1. I will be limited in activities and mobility for the next several weeks; full recovery is expected to take nine months to a year.
My wife has been beyond amazing through all of this. Janet prepared our home in advance, walked with me through the surgery and four-day hospitalization, and is caring for me at home with her usual brilliance, humor, and servant-hearted generosity. I hav e seen as never before how far I “over-married” and am so grateful to her and for her every day.
My surgeon did an exemplary job with a very complex procedure. The staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Plano, Texas, were outstanding.
Our ministry team has been terrific as well. I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Ryan Denison for writing the Daily Article brilliantly in my absence and to our Denison Forum colleagues for the outstanding content they continue to produce each day. Jen Abohosh and our Denison Ministries team are doing their usual superlative work in fulfilling our mission day by day.
As grateful as I am for each of them, I am still disappointed to be in this position today.
I first injured my back eight years ago. For eight years, as my condition deteriorated, I prayed for God to heal me using medical or even miraculous means. I have witnessed such healings in my personal ministry over the years, so I asked the Lord to do for me what I know he has done for many others in Scripture and in our world today.
But he did not give me the answer for which I prayed.
"DECEIVE YOURSELF NO LONGER"
How do we trust God when he doesn’t do what we’re trusting him to do?
Each of us experiences disappointment with God on occasion; only the most naïve would expect the Lord to give them everything they ask for every time they ask for it. However, when a true challenge arises and God does not give us what we ask, our faith can be shaken to its foundations.
We can question whether God is who the Bible and the Christian faith claim him to be. For example, responding to his wife’s death to cancer, C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”
Or we can question whether we are who the Bible and the Christian faith claim us to be. Scripture teaches that Christians are the children of God by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), that there is nothing we can do to earn or forfeit his compassion and love. Why, then, has God not done for us what we know he has done for others?
"HAS GOD FORGOTTEN TO BE GRACIOUS?"
You are either where I am today or afraid you will be one day. So, I’ll close with reflections on a biblical text that has greatly encouraged me over the past week in hopes it will help you as well.
I believe that God redeems all he allows. As a result, I know he is redeeming my back surgery for a greater good than would have been the case if he had healed me prior to surgery.
However, I have no biblical assurance that I will understand this “greater good” on this side of heaven (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). But I do understand two practical principles from Psalm 77:
One: It is normal in hard times to question our faith.
The writer testifies, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (v. 4) and asks of the Lord, “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? ... Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (vv. 8–9). Jesus similarly cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, echoing Psalm 22:1; cf. Isaiah 1:18).
Two: On the hard days, remember the good days.
The psalmist pivots from his present questions to his previous experience: “I will remember the deeds of the Lᴏʀᴅ; yes, I will remember your wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11). He proceeds to list God’s “mighty deeds” in creation and Jewish history (vv. 12–20). In light of all God has done, the psalmist finds the strength to trust God for all he will do.
THE FAITH TO HAVE FAITH
This week, I have been reflecting on the many ways my Lord has previously demonstrated his omnipotent love in my life. I believe that my unchanging Father (Malachi 3:6) loves me as much as on the day he sent his Son to die on my cross to pay for my eternal salvation. As a result, I am trusting that when his “ways” are not my “ways,” this is only because they are “higher than [my] ways” (Isaiah 55:9).
And I am asking God for the faith to have faith where I need faith most (Mark 9:24).
I invite you to join me today, to the glory of God.