Have you noticed that it is increasingly easy to become a negative person? Is it just me or has criticism and disdain become our national pastime here in America? What is it about us that longs to both recognize and report all the things we see or experience that are bad or broken, at least in our opinion?
Long ago I made the decision that I didn’t want to be known for what I was against. And that’s not easy given that I live in the world of theology and religious practice. It is fair to say that a large percentage of Americans consider religion nothing more than the fear that someone, somewhere, might be having fun. We religious types have too often lived down to the myth that we exist to make sure all the “don’ts” are scrupulously monitored. Of course I would argue long that a life spent loving and serving the God of the Bible is actually one of freedom from bondage to selfishness and sin, but my arguments would only hold water if my life demonstrated it, even in the hard times.
There are many things that we should be against, and I don’t have the mind or the time to go into that list here. What I want to consider is how easy it is to become infatuated with what we’re against, and to find a kind of life energy flowing out of finding more and more things to oppose. In short, we’re becoming a nation that loves to pick on things, on people, on products, on ideas, and on whatever there is that we might find lacking.
This is particularly evident during election season. As I watch and listen to the statements of politicians and pundits I have personally gone through the stages of interest and shock all the way to fatigue and incredulity. The constant tide of negative pronouncements that flows from the candidates and commentators on both sides of the aisle is nothing short of nauseating. But much worse is the pervasive critical spirit that is spreading through our offices, homes and relationships. We are becoming a nation of gripes and groans and Facebook rants. We actually like to get in groups with our friends to run down this and wag our tongues at that, belittling this person and ridiculing that idea. For too many of us, if we don’t have something negative and biting to say about someone or thing, we end up speechless.
Remember when Mom told us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” The value of that advice didn’t just pertain to what you said. It also spoke to the fact that when you engage in negativity, you become negative. Now don’t hear me suggesting that we jump on the positive thinking train. That’s not my aim. What I am saying is that an intentional preoccupation with ridicule, disdain and contempt can stain the soul, making it intrinsically bitter.
It is far better to be known for what you support, what you believe is right and good. And it is even better to be a billboard for your values by the way you live your life. The proof of a worldview is the way it allows you to live with joy in the midst of trials and uncertainty. What our friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues need isn’t one more gripe session.
We’re well-stocked in that area. What we all need is to focus on solutions, on light rather than darkness, and work together to put confidence, love and joy back into the center of our lives. And for me, that means looking at life through the lens of an eternity that is, and has always been, in the hands of Almighty God.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.