Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, is noted for more than just the fact that he gave his name to the’ teddy bear’.
He lived life with gusto, enjoying outdoor manly pursuits such as hunting, and establishing the first National Parks.
He was equally positive in domestic politics, tackling restrictive practices in business monopolies, while pursuing vigorous policies abroad.
He was fond of quoting an old adage, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick”. Another of his phrases came to my attention lately. It runs, ‘The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.’
It is fatally easy to be cynical about life; for the worst side of human nature often forces itself on our attention. News bulletins are crammed with stories of greed and dishonesty, anger and violence. When we read of sexual misbehaviour among religious figures and charity workers, or bribes to political figures, it is tempting to pronounce, “They’re only in it for what they can get out of it”. But such an attitude easily leads to despair.
The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, is often portrayed as a world-weary cynic, dismissing everything in life as ‘vanity’, or , as one modern interpreter has ’ a mere spitting into the wind.’
Yet he instructed his readers, ‘Eat your food with gladness, and dink your wine with a joyful heart. Always be clothed in white and always anoint you head with oil.’(Ecclesiastes 9;7).The white garment and oil were viewed in the ancient east as signs of rejoicing.
The poet T.S. Eliot, lead a tormented life with his unhappy wife. To highlight the strain he was under at home, he often went to his work as a reader in the offices of Faber and Faber, with green powder daubed on his face. How much more manly it would have been to wear a smile to hide a breaking heart.
The New Testament is a supremely optimistic book. Since God came to earth in Christ, and since he conquered sin and death by his resurrection, the early Christians did not face life with a sneer but with a smile. The Jesus they followed was supremely joyful.
Even on the brink of death he was anxious for his disciples that,” my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”(John 15;11). Likewise, the command ‘rejoice’ runs like a drumbeat through Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Someone once remarked how the early Christians did not say, ‘What is the world coming to?’ Instead they said, ‘Look who has come to the world.’
That’s why the sneer has no place in a Christian lifestyle.