Tad R. Callister: ‘Can we be optimistic in turbulent times?’

These are indeed turbulent times — a worldwide pandemic, protests and riots, widespread unemployment, a surge in crime, and election concerns.  Is it possible to be optimistic under such circumstances, or to the contrary, is it a time to yield to negativism and pessimism? In other words, can someone be realistic and optimistic at the same time? Fortunately, our Savior, the great Exemplar, has given us the answer. 

It was the last week of the Savior’s life. He knew that Judas would betray Him. Peter, His chief Apostle, would deny knowing Him on three occasions, and some of those He had come to save would mock Him, spit upon Him and smite Him. There would be a false arrest and trial. But even more trying than this would be His moments in the garden and on the cross where He would descend below all things (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:6). He described this experience in His own words as that suffering which “cause[d] myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). What quantum of pain causes even a God to tremble?

Nonetheless, knowing that all this would befall Him in the week ahead, He both warned and comforted us: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, “I am realistic enough to know that you will have trials and tribulations in life, but I can promise you that underlying it all you can be of good cheer. Why? Because once I complete the Atonement, there is no external force — no loss of life, or sickness, or economic disaster, or divorce, or other outside trial that can prevent you from being exalted, provided you are obedient and endure to the end.”

Elder Tad R. Callister
Elder Tad R. Callister Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In essence, the Savior’s Atonement gives us hope and an eternal perspective that our internal choices — not external forces — determine our divine destiny. And with that hope and eternal perspective we can and should be of good cheer. 

Such was the case with Joseph Smith. He had been confined to the cramped and foul quarters of Liberty Jail for over two months. Finally, in desperation, he cried out: “O God, where art thou? … How long shall thy hand be stayed” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-2). Then the Lord gave Joseph a perspective that helped him understand the trials of the moment compared to the eternal rewards of the future: “My son, peace be unto they soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shall triumph over all they foes” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8).

The Lord then painted a picture of Joseph’s future mortal life, and it was not a pretty one — his forced separation from wife and child, being cast into the hands of murderers, and the very jaws of hell gaping its mouth wide-open after him. But Joseph now had an eternal perspective. He knew there was nothing the elements or any other person could do to rob him of his exaltation. He was in sole, absolute control of his destiny if he chose to find growth in these afflictions rather than despair.

With this divine insight he wrote to the Saints from that same prison cell: “Dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17). He knew the promise and possibility of exaltation was the foundation of a cheerful and optimistic life.

Optimism may not be the equivalent of faith, but it is certainly a steppingstone in the right direction. In fact, it is both a necessary component of faith and a fruit of faith. It is powerful evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ and His power to heal us and save us, even when our trials seem momentarily unbearable.

Optimism adds fuel to the fire of faith; on the other hand, negativism throws water on its flames. Negativism and pessimism are Satan’s turf; positivism and optimism are God’s.

Optimism adds fuel to the fire of faith.

Optimism is a ray of light in what might otherwise be a dark world.  It is a reflection of the Savior’s pronouncement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). My grandfather, Elder LeGrand Richards, was a shining light. He always had a smile and positive outlook on life. He used to say: “I just do the best I can and leave the worrying to the Lord.” I loved that saying. It reminded me that the Savior has taken upon Him the heavy lifting. He has left us with a load, but a manageable one.

Knowing that the Lord is in charge and that exaltation is literally guaranteed to all who keep His commandments is what makes it possible for us to smile and be of good cheer, day after day, trial after trial. It was this knowledge that prompted the apostle Paul to say: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

How grateful we can be for the Savior’s Atonement and the hope and eternal possibilities it provides. Because of this we can be optimistic, even in turbulent times, knowing that our trials, in and of themselves, can never deprive us of our eternal destiny.

— Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.