Being positive is not so bad. It has value, and it is certainly better than its dour opposite. Trust me. But it is also far from the panacea it is purported to be.
It doesn’t raise anyone from the dead, heal a broken soul, deal with the contagion of evil, nor satisfy our deepest needs. There is no heavy lifting, just tinkering at the edges.
And, more to the point, it is a word barely if ever used in scripture. Does this make being positive of no value? Far from it. And is it not better to have a positive outlook rather than a negative one? Certainly.
Scripture doesn’t deny the idea of maintaining a positive outlook, but it uses much more specific language, stronger and richer words, with much more significant outcomes.
Hope, for instance. Hope is a confident future orientation. It is ultimately, utterly and totally positive. But it is in a specific end, a prophetic future of the rule and reign of Jesus Christ, of his summing up all things in heaven and earth. Hope is not a word that can be easily, and therefore cheaply, attached to a list of personal preference/s and ideals - things I might want.
Hope was what kept people looking to the promises of God when nothing around them gave them hope. With their circumstances hopeless, and they helpless, hope of God’s bright future beckoned and sustained people in the worst of circumstances. It still does.
It a hard to be ‘positive’ when someone you love dies. To be full of hope? Yes and amen. To be positive (in the sense it is normally used)? Hardly. The words positive and negative aren’t the right words. They are too weak, too beggarly, and they lack the prophetic punch of scripture. It is like turning up for a royal wedding in shorts and a tee shirt. You are wearing clothes, but they bear no gravity or sense of occasion.
I would like to posit a different way of being positive, a different view, a different attitude (because that is what is being spoken of when the word positive is used), which is more in line with God’s will/word than mine.
It is described by the magnificent and holy word - thankful. Thankfulness is both a response to God’s goodness and a means of staying in that goodness – in the experience of it.
The New Testament is replete with commands to be thankful. It is being thankful for something, not just being thankful as a practice, so that better days might present themselves to us, or that by being thankful we might be nicer people. These are not the point of thankfulness.
Thanksgiving forms a significant part of the theology of the Apostle Paul. When he speaks of giving of thanks he was far from, as in way ahead, of any notion of mere positivity. The book of Colossians points to thanksgiving being part of the new life of Christ being properly lived out by the church. Alongside the themes of cosmic subjugation of principalities and powers, the display of God’s power to the ages, and the summing up of all things in Christ, we find the theme of thanksgiving. It is a marker of the community of God’s people in Christ. It is like circumcision (See Colossians 2) in that it marks out God’s people. This is what we look like – or should look like. Thankful.
We are enjoined to be thankful in all circumstances - not for them, in them. This is about Christ’s lordship in our lives.
Thanks giving will certainly make us more positive – but as an outcome, not as the goal.
Thanksgiving is about someone, about his magnificence and lordship.
The focus of being positive is personal, whereas the focus of thanksgiving is a person. It is the difference between personal benefit and kingdom proclamation.
This could make a positive difference to us, were we to practise it more.
“Give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”