How Should Christians Respond to Toxic Positivity Within the Church?

Toxic positivity does not fit in a biblical, Christ-honoring worldview. Believers need to confront the false basis of toxic positivity and seek to follow what God’s Word says about emotions and encourage those in our churches to develop a healthy way of expressing emotions.

Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 17, 2023
How Should Christians Respond to Toxic Positivity Within the Church?

According to Psychology Today, “Toxic positivity is the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences.” Toxically positive people ignore difficult emotions like grief and anger, as well as situations that induce these feelings. They also do not acknowledge or address the struggle and pain of others.

We can encounter toxic positivity anywhere, which means the church is not immune to its influence. Within many churches, believers feel that they must act happy or else those around them will think they have spiritual problems or lack faith.

There is nothing wrong with healthy optimism, but Christians need to recognize that a mindset that ignores hardships and negative emotions is not biblical.

In response to toxic positivity, believers need to confront the false beliefs underlying this mindset, seek biblical truth, speak the truth in love, and exercise discernment.

1. Confront False Assumptions and Beliefs

Christians often wrongly assume that they are supposed to be happy all the time. Sadly, many churches have fueled this belief by not talking openly about difficult emotions like grief or anger. When people are hurting, it is easier to say, “trust God” or “have more faith” than to walk with those people in their pain.

Even if a person mistakenly believes that Christians are naturally meant to be cheerful, this does not excuse them for invalidating the feelings of others or being dishonest about their own struggles. Ignoring the pain of others is not helpful or loving.

Also, believers need to recognize that many of the underlying assumptions that fuel toxic positivity come from mainstream secular culture and New Age beliefs. In today’s culture, people are chasing their “best life ever.” Negative feelings do not fit into this plan.

New Age teachings also promote toxic positivity as people try to manifest happiness into their life. Positive thinking is a part of New Age spirituality, as taught in the Law of Attraction.

Instead of dealing with negative emotions, New Age followers try to push aside these feelings to manifest the “perfect” life they desire.

New Age spirituality and secular culture can and are influencing the church. A study from Pew Research found that “six in ten” Christians believe in New Age teachings, including “belief in reincarnation, astrology, psychics and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects.”

Believers are also at risk since practices like manifesting have become popular on social media in recent years.

These views of positivity, both in the church and in the culture, go against biblical teaching. Wealth, health, the “perfect” job, and relationships will not give us lasting happiness. We will never have lasting joy or hope apart from Jesus (John 15:11; 17:13).

Furthermore, the true joy we receive in Christ does not ignore or invalidate negative feelings and experiences. In Christ, we have the promise of a joyful eternity and the presence of a caring Savior who walks with us through hardships and pain.

2. Seek Biblical Truth

After confronting the basis of toxic positivity, believers need to seek the truth of God’s Word. Scripture never tells us that our life will be free from pain (John 16:33). Neither does the Bible teach us that we should ignore our problems and negative emotions.

Instead, in Scripture, we find many examples of people honestly expressing their feelings to God. The Psalms present us with a wide range of emotions, especially the difficult ones that people tend to avoid.

For example, there are multiple psalms of lament where the psalmist cries out to God for help while also acknowledging their sorrow and pain (Psalm 13,31,86,142).

In Psalm 31, David tells the Lord about his grief: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief” (Psalm 31:9).

In addition to grief, the Psalms also express anger. Asaph calls out for God’s justice in Psalm 79 since he is angry that the temple was defiled and that people were killed (Psalm 79:1-4). Similarly, David expresses his anger and frustration about the wicked people who were opposing him (Psalm 109).

These wicked individuals were unkind to the poor and needy and regularly cursed others (Psalm 109:16-18). Since David is upset over these wrong actions, he asks God to intercede (Psalm 109:26-29). Both Asaph and David expressed their anger to God and did not try to push aside their feelings.

The Lord created us in His image, which means we have emotions just as He does (Genesis 1:27). When Jesus took on human flesh, He expressed emotions.

In the temple courts, He showed righteous anger by flipping over the tables of the money changers (Mark 11:15-17). Also, after Lazarus died, Jesus wept in grief (John 11:35).

Choosing to invalidate negative emotions ignores our God-given humanity and the teachings of Scripture. Instead of engaging in toxic positivity, we need to learn to express our emotions biblically. The Book of Psalms can teach us about bringing our variety of feelings to the Lord.

3. Speak the Truth in Love

Believers should boldly proclaim and follow the truth of God’s Word. However, we also need to remember to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Acting hateful or judgmental toward those who are toxically positive in the church is not a Christlike way to respond (Luke 6:28; 1 Peter 3:9).

When Paul addressed a problem in the Corinthian church, he sent them a severe letter written from a place of love. His purpose was to correct the Christians in Corinth and to restore an erring but repentant believer to fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).

As he wrote, “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).

We can follow Paul’s example of a biblical response by lovingly correcting those who have toxic positivity. Believers within the church may unknowingly practice this harmful type of positivity or may have fallen into false teaching. By lovingly telling them the truth of Scripture, we can aim to correct this harmful mindset and prevent further damage to them and others.

4. Exercise Discernment

Lovingly correcting misguided believers is one thing, but staying in a church that encourages false teaching is another. If the local church you attend actively promotes toxic positivity and unbiblical views about grief, pain, hardships, and other struggles, then you need to exercise discernment.

Staying at a church that encourages Christians to ignore painful feelings and difficult situations is not a wise choice. Instead of enduring further false teaching and spiritual abuse, you should seek out a biblical church and, if needed, Christian counseling.

In addition to exercising discernment about teachings at church, believers should evaluate if they need individual help for a toxically positive outlook.

Studying the Psalms and seeking the counsel of mature believers can help a believer gain a more biblical and holistic view of emotions.

Asking the Holy Spirit for assistance in renewing your mind and guiding you in the truth of Scripture is also a great way to start confronting toxic positivity in your life.

What Does This Mean?

Toxic positivity does not fit in a biblical, Christ-honoring worldview. Believers need to confront the false basis of toxic positivity and seek to follow what God’s Word says about emotions.

Although we need boldness in proclaiming the truth, we should lovingly correct those with toxic positivity to encourage those in our churches to develop a healthy way of expressing emotions. The Lord never ignores our struggles, and neither should we.

For further reading:

What Should Christians Do When Church Leaders Gaslight Them?

What Does Matthew 18 Say about Conflict Resolution Within the Church?

Why Is Shame Connected to the Church?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AJ_Watt

Sophia BrickerSophia Bricker is a writer. Her mission is to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus through thoughtful articles, devotionals, and stories. She completed a BA and MA in Christian ministry, which included extensive study of the Bible and theology, and an MFA in creative writing. You can follow her blog about her story, faith, and creativity at The Cross, a Pen, and a Page.


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