Overcoming pessimism

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Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Numbers 13:30

Pessimists seem to be everywhere, even in our churches. With their immediate negative responses, pessimists pour cold water on anything and everything. Facing them is a big challenge for godly people.

Caleb was a man of God who followed God wholeheartedly. An optimist, Caleb could see God was active in the journey towards the Promised Land. But it was tough going for him. More than the enemies outside, there were fellow travellers who made it difficult to progress.

Caleb, along with 11 others, was assigned by Moses to spy out the Promised Land of Canaan. Ten of his fellow spies returned pessimistic.

Their observations of the land with milk and honey and fruits were accurate – the cities were fortified and giants occupied the land. The majority of the spies saw themselves like grasshoppers beside the giants in Canaan. Their inference – “we can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” – appeared logical and their report so convincing that the entire community wept.

The people even proposed turning back to Egypt to live in slavery again (Numbers 14:4). Had a vote been taken, the people would likely have gone with the 10 and the proposal would have carried with a thumping majority.

Such was the contagious effect of pessimism. The problem with the pessimistic majority was that they left out God in their frame of thinking. They stood against God. In the face of this negativity, Caleb demonstrated extraordinary courage.

It would have been easy for Caleb to go with the majority. He did not disagree with the other spies’ observations. True, the enemies were huge, but Caleb saw them through God’s eyes. To him, God was bigger than any giant. Standing on God’s side, Caleb urged the people not to rebel against God nor fear the people of the land. Caleb’s optimism was anchored in his conviction that if God was pleased with them, He would bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to them.

Optimism for God’s people is not about minimising the challenge but about magnifying God.

To be on God’s side among a majority of pessimists may invite severe attacks. It was a risk for Caleb to be on God’s side even in the midst of the so-called people of God. They wanted to kill him and Joshua, his fellow spy (Numbers 14:10). Jesus and Elijah went through the same path too. Standing for the truth will not be popular with those who are of the world. It can be a lonely experience.

Caleb’s optimism was not a one-time conviction. We see it again 45 years later.

Many things had changed. Joshua had taken over the mantle of leadership from Moses. God’s promise to Caleb that “the land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever…” (Joshua 14:9) seemed to have been ignored in the division of conquered territory.

It would have been easy for Caleb to give up. Instead, Caleb asked for the hill country that God had promised to His servant with a different spirit who followed Him wholeheartedly. Despite the fortified cities and giant Anakites there, Caleb was ready to go out to battle knowing that with the Lord’s help, he could drive the enemies out of the hill country (Joshua 14:12). And so it was that at the age of 85, Caleb received God’s reward for his faithfulness and optimism.

The Rev R. Prabhu –

was elected President of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He is also Pastor-in-Charge of Ang Mo Kio Tamil Methodist Church.


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