Those of you who follow out midweek Bible studies on the Gospel of John and on Revelation, will recognize the name G.K. Beale. He is my favorite theologian and his books have helped me tremendously in my understanding and study of the Bible. This link is to a series of lectures he has given on the big story of the Bible and how the Bible progressively tells this story from Eden lost to Eden regained in the New Heavens and Earth.
Luk 16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
“It’s all good and you need to get your negative thinking straightened out!” That is the lie of toxic positivity. It is toxic because it is poison to the soul like all lies are. It denies evil rather than being wise to it. It calls evil, “good.” Yes, God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, but the TP people twist this truth to guilt and shame and deny.
The following is an excellent essay written on this subject by one of our blog followers and online church members. Many thanks to her for writing and shining more light on this common “just keep on the sunny side of life” business. Here she is:
Recently you were preaching about toxic positivity. That got me to thinking…
Why in Luke 16:25 does Jesus say that the poor Lazarus was being comforted by Abraham, while the rich man was in hell? I mean, if Lazarus was supposed to always “count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” then shouldn’t Lazarus’s life have been one big rollercoaster of joy because of all his trials? Why would he need to be comforted after all the terrible things he suffered here on Earth? The “you be joyful right now you loathsome sinner” crowd would say that Lazarus should have been over-the-moon to have been “chosen by the Lord” to suffer all that he did. And according to them, Jesus should have been calling Lazarus out for his sin of “bitterness,” since he could not transcend his circumstances to reach a higher “joy” plane — either by using positive thinking, “keeping an eternal perspective,” practicing some sort of christian-y Zen, or aggressively ignoring everything that was happening to him and forcing a smile.
Like I was told by my “c”hristian counselors — while being stalked by my ex, my church putting me under church discipline and shunning, being thrown under the bus by my own lawyer, medical providers taking me to court to sue me for medical bills “himself” had not been paying for years, losing my home and everything I ever owned, “himself” confiscating our joint checking and savings accounts (even though I paid into them), “himself” refusing to pay child support, me having to move back in and live with my abusive parents, being harassed and shamed by my abusive brothers, losing my job, losing all my friends, and my daughter’s genetic, chronic illness suddenly making the full force of its brutal self known in her body — I was counseled to focus on their “train analogy” to help me find joy. You see, the engine is your thoughts, the coal car is your actions, and the caboose is your feelings. If you’re in a bad state, just think happy thoughts. Change… your mind. Change your mind, change your life! Repeat/(chant) pieces of verses from the list they gave me. You know those memes… “if you’re feeling this, then read that piece of verse,” those things that go around on Facebook. Happy, holy thoughts will get the engine turned around and get it heading in the right direction. And it will start to pull everything else onto the “right” track.
Then, make yourself do happy actions. Make yourself sing praise songs (but not in the choir anymore because they kicked me out of choir and all ministry). Read good Christian books (but only from their “selected authors and publishers” reading list). Cook or bake (but don’t indulge the flesh or self-medicate with food). Exercise (but don’t do it from the sins of pride or vanity). Take extra good care of my kids (but do not inform them about abusers’ tactics, do not discuss their fear, rage, and anger for what “himself” had done to them and what pastors and church kids were still doing to them, do not read to them what I was learning from *secular* [*whispered tones*] Lundy Bancroft or have them listen to *angry* Jeff Crippen sermons on becoming wise to evil — because, even though they were heavily abused too, it was all just me “dumping my baggage” on my 17, 15. and 13 year old kiddos, poisoning them against the father who they “secretly loved [they didn’t — they were afraid he would carry through on his threats to kill them and collect their life insurance to pay off his credit card debts], and who they secretly wanted to see often [they were terrified of even seeing his vehicle across a parking lot], but I made them too afraid to say their secret desires out loud.”)
But, if I think (their prescribed) happy thoughts, do (their prescribed) happy actions, then eventually my feelings would be dragged around into the opposite direction, get aligned to the “correct” position, and my happy train would get on the right track, and I would be joyous all the time. Pain and suffering, even that of my kids, would no longer affect me! My problems would melt away in the light of my eternal perspective…. *squee….!!!!*
All that to say, Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is being comforted in Paradise for all the trauma he went through. And Jesus holds this formerly miserable man up as an example of righteousness in His parable — someone resting blissfully now and eternally. Jesus did not use him as an example of failed faith or failed joy. To quote the kids nowadays, Jesus “ain’t even mad” that Lazarus needed comforting and was being held in the arms of his father-in-faith, Abraham. So if Jesus makes a man who needs comfort after trauma, out to be the protagonist — the hero, if you will — in His parable, then why does the “toxic positivity” squad think that they know better than the Lord they say they serve?
2Ti 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (15) Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.
This is a very illuminating scripture for a number of reasons and I have written about it more than once. In this case I want to focus on its application to a very common scenario created by acquaintances (I won’t call them friends) of abuse victims. Here is how it works.
Some event is coming. Maybe a wedding, or a funeral, or a graduation or family thing. And what happens? People who know what the abuse victim has suffered, and who know WHO the abuser is, invite the abuser to the event anyway. I have had this happen to me many times. A wedding. A funeral. A so-called family reunion. And I do not go. Then I am criticized for not being there. Why didn’t I attend? Because I knew that evil, wicked people who hate me and who have caused all kinds of suffering were invited to come and they would have absolutely no qualms or shame about attending. I drew some personal boundaries some years ago and resolved that I will never be put in such a situation again.
Now, why are these evil people invited? Well, I can tell you. Because the people who invite them simply do not care. They do not care about the wicked abuse that has happened. They do not care about the victim. They just don’t care. They want to maintain friendly relations with the abuser because they do not want to take a stand and pay the price that the victim has had to pay.
And there is something else they don’t care about. They do not care that the Lord Himself commands us to have nothing to do with such evil people. We are to expose their evil and separate from them. If they are the pretend Christians then we are to put them out of the church (something that is rarely done by local churches today).
So here it is, allies of the evil one. The Lord Jesus says plainly that if we who claim to follow Him do not love His people and if we do not hear and obey His Word, then we are not His sheep. He doesn’t know us. He will not have us. If anyone invites an abusive, evil person who has done harm to others…if you invite them to your birthday gala, or to a wedding, or whatever the event might be – you simply do not care about the victims of such people.
And Christ does not care about you.