I’ve observed a great danger among Christians during moments of tragedy, injustice, and difficulty. It’s something called toxic positivity.
How could being positive be a bad thing? How could something good ever be considered toxic?
But toxic positivity has less to do with having an optimistic outlook on life and more to do with using feigned optimism as an excuse to ignore genuinely negative aspects of life, relationships, the Church, and the community at large.
According to one definition, “toxic positivity can be described as insincere positivity that leads to harm, needless suffering, or misunderstanding.”
For the non-Christian, an attitude of toxic positivity might be marked by phrases like “good vibes only.” But for the Christian, we tend to hide behind bible verses like “Rejoice in the Lord always,” so that we don’t have to experience pain—whether someone else’s or our own.
Toxic positivity perpetuates harm. Here are a few reasons why everyone, but particularly Christians, need to avoid it at all costs.
1. Toxic Positivity Is a Shallow Substitute for Hope.
The main reason toxic positivity is damaging is that it’s a shallow substitute for biblical hope in Jesus. It can serve to hurt others and make them feel disconnected from us when they sense that we are disconnected from reality.
This often comes in the form of trite sayings, said with a plastic smile and dead eyes.
Everything happens for a reason. God is in control.
Everything will be fine. Don’t worry. Jesus tells us not to worry.
Jesus is the answer. We all just have to love him and love each other.
These sayings may very well be true, and the person saying them might have pure intentions. However, for someone experiencing a true moment of crisis, these pat responses delivered with a cheerful grin can be quite jarring. They cause cognitive dissonance and can make people wonder if you’re even listening to them at all.
Sometimes we think we’re conveying a sense of hope and optimism, when really we’re coming off as clueless and tone deaf. Hope and positivity are two very different things.
Hope acknowledges struggle and pain, while pointing to the promises that Jesus has given to us. Positivity simply tries to make the problem go away (or at least to get you to stop talking about it) by saying things that sound nice. And that can be very harmful.
2. Lament Is a Biblical Category We Too Often Ignore.
A common misconception of Christians is that we’re always supposed to be happy and cheerful. Regardless of what you’re feeling, you have to act happy.
Anger, fear, outrage, terror, and sadness are often portrayed as the enemies of faith. But they aren’t. They’re just part of being human. And when we suppress or ignore them, we often end up worse for wear because of it.