Editorial by David Kowalski
Those who offer critiques of heterodox teachings or unwise conduct are sometimes called “negative,” with the implication that this designation impugns the one who offers such critiques. Nevertheless, the terms “positive” and “negative” are not used in Scripture as equivalents of true and false, wise and foolish, or right and wrong. “Positive” and “negative” may be useful in determining the polarity of electrical current but not in determining veracity, wisdom, or morality.
Truth is not measured by the pleasant feelings it elicits and truth-telling is not determined by the pleasantness of the sentiments expressed. Whereas some Christians seem to think that the ultimate virtue is to be agreeable, God’s, true spokespeople never sacrifice accuracy for agreeableness.
Were Jesus’ strong rebuke in Matthew 23:1-36 spoken today many Christians would accuse Him of being carnal for being so caustic. He compares the Pharisees to “whitewashed tombs” and says, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (23:33 ESV). The Christ who threatens to bring harsh judgment to certain people in the Thyatiran church in Revelation 2:19-29 would be soundly rejected by many, modern Christians who equate positive, pleasantness with piety.
When a math teacher tells a student that they have gotten a problem wrong they are being “negative” but truthful. When truth encounters error it is negative about that error. Pleasantness can never be a legitimate substitute for correspondence to truth.
When this principle is applied to issues of eternal significance the tone employed must often be appropriate to the gravity of the issue. We do not speak in a calm demeanor to those about to ingest poison and we reflect an inappropriate apathy if we always maintain a pleasant posture toward those who would defile God’s temple or lead His precious people astray.
Similarly, though a generally optimistic approach to life is desirable, one’s posture or attitude toward specific activities should not always be positive. We should always express the wisdom that fits a specific activity — and wisdom is prudent, as a multitude of passages such as the following state:
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. –Proverbs 27:12 ESV
To voice concerns and doubts about the viability of ongoing or proposed actions may be negative but nevertheless good if they reflect wisdom. The police officer who arrests a drunk driver is indeed being pessimistic about the drunk’s ability to drive safely but pessimism is the right posture in such a case. Just as when truth is negative when it encounters error, wisdom takes a negative stance toward folly.
I’m negative about being positive in the face of error or folly, and I believe that negativity is a good thing.
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