Pollyanna, Debbie Downer, and Grace

Living as a Christian in this world is a strange thing. There is stunning beauty in this world, and there is mind-blowing tragedy and evil. There are seasons of joyful anticipation that make us want to jump out of bed in the morning, and there are seasons of deep griefs and sorrows that make us want to never leave the house. People respond to life differently, whether believers or unbelievers. From a personality standpoint, there are your classic “optimists” and “pessimists.” But what is a Christian supposed to look like in this world? Who is a better representation of the reality of the gospel in our lives: Pollyanna or Debbie Downer? Should the presence of good things make us Pollyannas? Or should the realities of horrendous evil make us Debbie Downers? And as you may suspect, I believe that the answer is neither. Let’s see what’s wrong with both approaches, and explore a biblical “third” way…

Pollyanna sees all the good and either ignores or is blind to the evil. There’s an unreality to this approach that makes it either naïve or overly simplistic. While Pollyanna may always see the bright side, she doesn’t honestly acknowledge the reality of sin and suffering. Perhaps she leads a relatively charmed life and is not exposed to the suffering of others. Perhaps it’s hard for her to face the reality of evil. Or perhaps she thinks it’s wrong or ungodly to acknowledge all that’s wrong with us and with the world. Whatever her reasoning and motivations, the Pollyanna approach is not a biblical view of reality. It is unbalanced. It precludes her from “weeping with those who weep” and being able to minister to those who are hurting. After all, we know that Jesus Himself was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53).

On the other hand, Debbie Downer has the opposite problem. She sees all the bad and either ignores or is blind to the good. There is a distortion of perspective in this approach that reminds me of the incident in Numbers 13-14. As my professor Dr. Stuart Scott once taught me, the reason that the spies had a “bad report” about the land of Canaan is not that there weren’t difficulties to be faced. Rather, they were telling the story and not including God’s presence, His power, and His previous promises to them that they would inherit the land. Like Peter, Debbie loses sight of Jesus because all she can see is the wind of the sea storm (Matthew 14).

Enter “Grace.” Grace knows the truth and sees the world with biblical clarity. She is aware that the Fall in Genesis 3 has radically altered the DNA of the universe. Sin is everywhere, Satan is the god of this world, and our flesh is fallen. The creation was subjected to futility, it groans, and as God’s child, Grace groans as she waits eagerly for her adoption and the redemption of her body (Romans 8:18-25). Because Grace belongs to the body of Christ, she lives not one life, but a thousand, as she is joined to the joys and sorrows of every other believer. Whatever is happening in her own life circumstances, there will (and should) always be a part of her that is sad and weeping, because someone in the body of Christ is always sad and weeping, and she joins together with them (Romans 12:15). Yet Grace also knows that there is more to the story, and that reality is bigger than what her eyes can see. Grace believes that the One who would crush the serpent’s head has come, and that He is coming again once and for all. Grace knows that the ultimate Passover lamb has been sacrificed and that the debt of her sin before God has been paid in full forever. Grace knows that a new heavens and new earth is coming and that she will be a part of it. Grace rejoices with those who rejoice, and sets her mind on what is lovely (Philippians 4).

One of the strangest and most hauntingly beautiful meteorological events (in my opinion) is when it sprinkles rain while the sun is shining. It’s a paradox: normally it’s either all sunny, or all cloudy and rainy. But sunshine rain is rare and uniquely beautiful to all who behold it, much like Grace. And as we live in this way, perhaps a world of Pollyannas and Debbie Downers will stop and take notice of something other-worldly, and desire to know the Jesus of Grace, who in Himself has known both deepest sorrow and deepest joy.

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3 comments

  1. Thanks Carrie for your insight, the subjects you write about always make me think. I can easily relate to them, it pulls me in the direction I should be going with the scriptures you choose.

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