Not long ago someone told me about her pastor’s sermons, almost all of which scolded his listeners for being “so negative” and urged them to be “more positive.” That led me to post a question about the topic on Facebook that led to an excellent discussion.

When I posted my question, I wanted to be spurred in my own thinking by my friends, and I wanted to hear the experiences of others. Mostly I wanted to think Biblically about discerning good from evil, warning others about evil, asking for help regarding evil, grieving evil, and other necessary kinds of speech that could be interpreted as “critical” or “negative.”

Note: The quotations that I use in this blog post are from the comments in that Facebook post, some of them edited for brevity or clarity.

Does the Word of God caution us to “avoid those who are negative”?

No. The Bible doesn’t talk about “positivity” or “negativity” at all.

Because it doesn’t, we can’t go to the Bible to find out what the terms mean. This is a big problem, as you can imagine, especially when pastors are talking about “negativity” in their sermons.

Does “positivity” mean saying only things that make us think of rainbows and fluffy bunnies? Does being “positive” mean saying only pleasant  things about everyone and only pleasant things about my own life condition?

Are you talking about like…when someone says, “So how are you doing?” and I respond (in a sort of upbeat tone of voice), “As good as can be expected.”  And I hear back, “That’s all?” “Yep, how are you doing?” “Blessed better than I deserve.”

How can we get away from the dishonesty of saying, “Great!” and not feel slapped in the face when we try to be honest…but not too negative?

Does “negativity” mean saying things that trouble someone’s rosy paradigm of the world we live in?

Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. (#negativity! )

Does “negativity,” alternatively, mean pointing a finger at someone when you know you have three fingers pointing back at yourself?

Hmmm . . . hard to know when the Bible doesn’t define it, right? The Bible uses terms like good and evil, darkness and light, and righteousness and wickedness.

Have you been accused of being “negative”?

Let’s say Beth sees Annie at church and asks Annie how Annie is doing. Annie decides to be honest and says, “To tell the truth, I’m not doing well.”

Beth can inwardly think, “I can’t handle all this negativity” and outwardly say, “Cheer up! Look on the bright side! It takes 273 more muscles to frown than it does to smile! God is always good! See you later!”

Or Beth can show open her heart, show compassion, ask “What’s going on?” and just listen.

Four types of “negativity”

As I read the insightful comments from my friends and prayed for discernment, a pattern began to emerge. I began to see four types of “negativity.” People are usually rebuked as “negative” for at least three of the four, but not all four types are sinful.

1a. The “negativity” of grieving and processing loss and harm

Look back at the scenario of Beth and Annie again. What if Annie says, “I can’t seem to get past Julie’s death.” (Julie being her teenage daughter who died in an accident ten months ago.)

Beth can inwardly think, “This negativity is so sucking the life out of me,” and outwardly say, “You remember she’s in heaven, right? She knew Jesus. And you’ll see her again one day. All the angels rejoice when a child of God comes home, you remember that, right? Look at what you’ve still got, your other two children, a nice place to live, friends like me, a church that brought you meals for three weeks.”

Or Beth can grasp a deeper understanding of grief and say something like, “Can we set a time for you to talk more to me about Julie and tell me about her? I know she was an amazing girl, but I didn’t know her well, and I’d like to honor her memory that way.”

That will take a large capacity and great compassion, because sitting with grief is not easy. But it is what Jesus has called us to do in our love for others.

I think it’s really important to be able to mourn what is NOT right in the world.

The psalms and book of Lamentations speaks of pain so profoundly and without sugar coating the horrors or putting a “positive spin” on it.

The psalmists vulnerably poured out their hearts and were not fearful to say “how long Lord?” Or to acknowledge their grief, feeling of abandonment, or frustration.

Psalms was the Old Testament prayer book, and Jesus quoted it on the cross when he felt honestly ditched by God. He had learned to pray in pain from his heart without sugar coating his feelings.

Psalm 42:9-10 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Psalm 56:8 You keep track of all of my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

I’ve written more about how important it is for Christians to understand the “negativity” of grief in several other blog posts, such as here and here, as well as in Untwisting Scriptures.

1b. The “negativity” of asking for help regarding an unsafe person

When Beth and Annie are talking, what if instead Annie says, “It’s Jonathan. I just can’t seem to ever make him happy. I try so hard, but he’s always displeased with me, always angry. I don’t know what else to do.”

Beth could inwardly think, “Oh boy I don’t want to get in the middle of marriage squabbles,” and outwardly say, “You need to honor your husband by speaking well of him, not negatively. It’s wrong to gossip.”

Or she could say, “Maybe you can tell me more about what’s going on there.” And listen and learn and possibly even help.

The widow bringing her case before the unjust judge in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1-8 certainly was “negative,” wasn’t she? Using incendiary language like “adversary.” I can picture the judge rolling his eyes and wanting this “negative” woman to just go away.

But Jesus commended her for continuing to speak to an authority who was unjust, crying out to him to set things right.

2.     The “negativity” of pointing out wrongdoing that needs to be dealt with

(Someone asked me to write about the difference between “having a critical spirit” and “discerning good from evil.” This post is it.)

If we speak good, righteousness, and light, will we sometimes be accused of being “negative”?

Though “critical spirit” is a common accusation against those who point out wickedness and the facilitation of wickedness, it is not a Scriptural term, and thus can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. It generally means, “You’re speaking negatively against someone I think you shouldn’t speak negatively against, so you’re wrong.”

You are accused of being critical. Adding the word “spirit” makes it sound Biblical, but it isn’t. There’s no such thing, Biblically, as a sinful “critical spirit.”

The Bible does talk about “grumblers and faultfinders,” though. That’s a problme I’ll talk about in another section.

But it’s clear from the Bible that speaking negatively about someone else is not ipso facto sin. We can know that from the example of Jesus and others in Scripture.

Jesus said “the words that I speak are spirit and life.” That includes the negative words He spoke.

 Jesus spoke negatively about many things so how does one who is Christlike speak positively about everything?

If we are expected to have a Gothard/Phillips-style “joyful countenance” every moment of the day, it leaves no space for all the other emotions God gave us. Oh, and also it prevents us from calling out hypocrisy when we see it. Hmmmm…🤔…how convenient.

When trying to explain what was happening with the abusive cult I was in, many of my remaining friends and their parents limited my speech to only being “positive” and non-confrontational. “It’s not of God if it’s negative. Just be grateful,” was a constant refrain. My inability to conform but instead keep talking about the abuse in the cult got me labeled “negative” and summarily excised from anyone who hadn’t already shunned me. 

Those who point out wrongdoing may often be called “negative” . . . and actually they are. But the Bible and history are replete with examples showing us that this—calling out wickedness and the facilitation of wickedness—is a kind of necessary negativity.

3a. The “negativity” of doubting or fearing

Yes, this is a true problem, as Jesus pointed out to His disciples after He calmed the storm: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Yes, they should have trusted Jesus in that storm.

Or when He walked on the water and called to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid!” Yes, they shouldn’t have been afraid.

BUT, two things about doubting and fearing.

First of all, often when people are struggling in a way that some might think goes in THIS category, their “negativity” really belongs in category #1. It’s often really grieving and needs a compassionate ear.

Or it may be a roundabout way of asking for help because of someone who is dangerous.

The truth is that we don’t know the depression or anxiety someone may struggle with, and we don’t know the layers underneath. (There may be trauma that they don’t even recognize influencing their responses to life.) We shouldn’t befriend people with the caveat that if they can’t get over it by ______, we’re out.

I have been shamed so much for this, and it never helped me have a more positive outlook. Love (and growth over time) and looking forward to something better have.

Fearing or doubting, which is not part of mature Christianity, can be met with patient forbearance, even as Jesus did as He gently rebuked His disciples. We listen and love and continue to point them to Jesus, the way we would a child who is frightened by a thunderstorm.

The people I most appreciate have allowed me to struggle without demanding that I prove my situation is JUST AS hard/ bad as [someone else]. So I also want to validate others’ suffering even if it doesn’t match mine.

 I’ve never been particularly interested in getting rid of negativity. I have a lot of empathy for those who struggle; I may not be able to do anything about it, but I’m not going to not be around someone just because he or she is going through something difficult. In fact, that’s when I want to be around people the most. I think sometimes we get out of sorts when those in pain don’t react or do things the way we want them to. But the key is, that isn’t a threat to us or our well being (usually). It hurts to see someone go down a dark round and make bad choices, but that’s no reason to abandon him or her.

3b. The “negativity” of complaining

How can we discern if someone is complaining? Is it complaining if it isn’t seeking solutions, but only rehashing the problem?

Well, maybe not.

Dr. Diane Langberg. among others, has talked about how people who have been traumatized need to process their experiences, and some people need to do that processing through speech, which means talking about their experiences again and again and AGAIN.

Some people could see that as complaining. But Langberg emphasizes the importance of being willing to listen to people who are trying to wrap their minds around trauma, to listen to them again and again and again.

As a friend and I addressed in “You just need to be content: a response to Desiring God,” genuine complaining that needs to be gently rebuked is complaining about material provisions beyond the needed basics. (For example, the Old Covenant people, the Israelites, complained about the manna.) As Paul said in Philippians 2:14-16:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

But David “complained” to the Lord, and he wasn’t rebuked for it, because he was “complaining” about the wicked people in his life, asking for help, for example in Psalm 142:1-2.

“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”

I often pray with people over their overwhelming “complaints,” their situations that seem impossible, with the same kinds of strong persecutors this psalm references. The Lord wants us to take these complaints to Him, even take them to Him together.

4.     The “negativity” of speaking words to purposely cause harm to others

This is the bitter—or “poisonous”—person described in Hebrews 12:15, as explained at length in Untwisting Scriptures and to a lesser degree in this blog post.

Because the person is “poisonous,” then it would be an apt synonym to use the word “toxic”—even though it’s not a Biblical term.

The Bible refers to grumblers and fault-finders in Jude verse 16, the context of which is here:

Now Enoch, the seventh in descent beginning with Adam, even prophesied of them [the wicked], saying, “Look! The Lord is coming with thousands and thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict every person of all their thoroughly ungodly deeds that they have committed, and of all the harsh words that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain.

How can they be “enchanters” at the same time they are “grumblers and fault-finders”? Welcome to the world of the toxic person of Hebrews 12:15.

A “toxic” person is someone who is abusive, living in the works of the flesh in Galatians 5 and refusing to address their own brokenness. 

“Toxic” people live in a cycle of self-destructiveness that threatens others. They’re helped (typically) when they’re stopped or exposed.

 A toxic person; marked by acts that elevate one person over another by insult, manipulation, threatening, belittling, or controlling. One who causes sickness in another by such acts as noted and can result in mental, emotional, spiritual, or in some cases, physical death.

 When confronted with wickedness, evil and great sin — we need to flee. We need not to play the game with the wicked ones, therefore to them we are the ‘negative ones’ because we can’t endorse their wickedness.

 Only a fool comes to listen to a so-called “negative person ” without discerning between the two, and whose counsel and comments probably should be best thrown out the window. Not everyone is competent to counsel and many well-intentioned but misguided people do a lot of damage because they cannot tell the difference.

Laying it out graphically

If we were to chart all the kinds of “negativity,” they might all look something like this:

What kind of religion talks about “negativity” and “positivity”?

 The friends I have who post about being positive are not Christians. In their minds being positive has nothing to do with light, and being negative has nothing to do with darkness. It seems to be a mishmash of yin and yang theology.

 A friend of mine is dabbling in Law of Attraction and other things, even some witchcraft… “Positive” and “negative” are frequently referenced. Commonly associated with “energy.”

 I have never seen positive/negative terminology in the Bible either. It have a friend who is a former Wiccan. These terms were used VERY often there.

What’s the solution?

Walk and speak in truth and love. Live with love and empathy especially for the oppressed and struggling, with a willingness to listen with a compassionate heart. Speak truth, gently to the harmed and boldly to the harmers.

This is surely the way of our Lord Jesus. He had no concerns about his speech being “positive” or “negative.” He spoke the truth with love.

This is mission work. Some of those who have been harmed by so-called Christ-followers will come to know who He really is, will experience His actual love in all its fulness. Then they’ll want to turn from their old ways and give their hearts to Him.

Is it easy? No, it isn’t. Is it dark? Sometimes. But He calls us to live a life of truth and love, by the power of His Spirit. He calls us to follow Him.

And no matter how “negative” life gets, there will be nothing more “positive” than that.


Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.




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