Monday, August 12, 2013

Too Positive

I realized I have experienced a decent variety of congregations. Some uber-casual, some more formal. Some "therapeutic," some more legalistic. I have generally agreed with more positive theology, focusing on transformation rather than hell, fire, and brimstone. At the same time, I've become increasingly uncomfortable in settings where everyone always seems so happy and the goal seems to be happiness.

I do believe that God ultimately wants us to be happy, but that's not the ultimate goal. I would argue that being filled with love (received and given) is much more of the goal. While love can make us happy, it can also cause a lot of pain and suffering. Too much focus on needing to be happy, and we can invalidate the negative emotional experiences that are natural in life.

Some would argue that we can simply choose to be happy. I'm sorry, but that's just plain wrong. Emotions are rarely chosen. Our behaviors can be, and we can influence our emotions. Some people have a biological tendency to be less likely to be triggered toward negative emotions. Blessed are they. But telling others that they can simply choose to be happy can be quite damaging and short sighted. The invalidation can actually lead to greater negative emoting.

We need to be aware of how our best intentions can hurt others. I actually believe the "therapeutic" church has a lot of good to offer people that is straight from God. But we can't miss the need and beauty of sitting in the suffering and muck. Solely discussing the positive side of emotions and life is often used to help us regain hope. However, I have also seen it do exactly the opposite, shaming people into feeling like they're not good enough because they're not happy.

Finding the balance of looking toward the ideal and hope while sitting in the valley is a challenge, especially on a congregational scale. My hope and prayer is for all of us to continue to try to be aware of the different places people are coming from and use our more global voices to be sensitive to this diversity.


  1. Psalm 23 offers hope while not discounting the darkness... "... though I walk through valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for You are are me" Nice post sir!

  2. Well said, Josh. Christians are not a people on a peak of happiness with everyone else in the valleys, but rather a people afloat on the same sea as everyone else. I think a lighthouse analogy is fairly accurate and useful...

  3. Thanks for the comments, Mark and Jason, and good points!



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