Hope vs. Optimism

This week I thought I would be clever and do an “object lesson” in the sermon. I love golf so I thought I could demonstrate the difference in “hope” and “optimism” by putting a long putt (42 feet) and a short putt (6 inches). According to sandtrap.com, professional golfers have about a 4% chance of making a 42 feet putt and a 100% chance of making a putt less than 1 foot. Add to this I was putting the ball off the stage, onto the hardwood-gym-floor and into a solo cup 42 feet away. The chances of me making the long putt were less than 4%. And that was the point!

David Orr says, “Optimism is the recognition that the odds are in your favor; hope is the faith that things will work out whatever the odds. Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people are actively engaged in defying or changing the odds.”¹

I love that distinction as it relates to faith. I love the idea that it’s easy to be optimistic when everything is going great, when life seems so lined up for you that you just can’t miss. Optimism isn’t a bad thing! I love optimistic people and the way they always find the “brighter side” of life.

Hope, however, is harder. When things aren’t going great, when life seems so disjointed and out of rhythm, it’s hard to imagine that things will work out.

So back to the putts… The short putt is optimism. I had every reason to believe I would make a 6 inch putt. No doubt. Things looked good. I had very little reason to think I would make a 42 feet putt. The gym floor, putting off the stage, 130 sets of eyes on me, not to mention I’m not a great putter! But, I maintained hope. And to my surprise yesterday, the putt went in!


After I made the putt, I thought the sermon might be ruined. I had notes written down to indicate what it means that I missed the putt. I had the whole sermon arranged around the idea that I would make the short one (optimism) and miss the long one (hope).

As I’ve reflected on yesterday, it’s occurred to me that making the putt was the only way for the object lesson to work. During the sermon I asked us to have hope because what we see and what God knows are often two different things. I saw an impossible putt. I see people hurting, pain, suffering, violence, hatred, need… While I know that God sees these places too, I also believe that God sees more than I can.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (CEB). This passage was written during one of the hardest times in Israel’s history. They had been exiled, deported, taken away from their temples and homes. They were in a foreign land under foreign rule and God comes with this word?! Imagine how they must have heard that? It would have been devastating or as the title in the Common English Bible says, it was a “disturbing hope.”

But I think we need some “disturbing hope” right now. With our eyes wide-open to all that is happening in our world, we can still hope. What’s more, we can see the long putts of our lives and trust that to God, they are a tap-in. And yesterday was proof of that for me. I had no business making that putt. I could go back and try it again 100 times and would probably miss all 100 putts. But to God, the long odds don’t mean a thing. God has hope for us; indeed, God hopes for us!

I know this is a long and somewhat rambling post, but I am so convinced and excited by God’s hope in us and for us that I can’t stop talking about it. Hope is hard, but it’s contagious. It starts like a little crack of light in the corner of your heart and the more space you give it, the brighter it shines. As Henri Nouwen says:

When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant.²

So claim your light. Have hope — even if it’s just a little right now. Hope in a future that is good and peaceful. A future and a present that is full of love and grace and joy. Be confident in the hope God has for you because although it may feel like an impossible putt, it’s a tap-in for God.

Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole


1. David Orr, Hope is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr, (Island Press Books: Washington D.C., 2009), 324.

2. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, (Crossroad Publishing Company: New York, NY, 1992), 63.