The Danger of Toxic Thinking

You might be assuming from the title that today’s post is about how to avoid negative mental patterns. While there is a ton of biblical material to back up why such an endeavor would be important, that’s not the direction we’ll be taking. Call it intentional misdirection. (Abracadabra!)

The danger of thinking about toxic people—or, more specifically, of thinking of people as toxic—is actually where we’re headed, and it’s quite a different conversation.

“She’s such a toxic person! You should just get out of there!” Sound familiar? Our culture is all about trying to deboard the train of toxicity. Are you negative? Toxic! Are you needy? Toxic! Are you dramatic? Toxic!

Are you human? Toxic.

There’s a vicious danger in thinking of individuals as “toxic,” and it springs from deep within. When we write someone off for being human (i.e., prone to weakness and sin), we overlook what we ourselves have been saved from at great cost. The self-righteous pride that enables labeling others cuts us off from reality, attuning us to the culture rather than to the kingdom. To our shame, we make much of self and little of the cross, and love is nowhere to be found.

Labels are a fruit of gospel forgetfulness. To claim someone is too far gone is to minimize the Person and work of Christ. (It’s the emotional equivalent of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, in which we hold others to the judgment which we deserved but were spared.) So I’ll say it again: human? Toxic.

We’ve all been there—self-centered, rebellious, destructive. But that’s not the end of our story, and it shouldn’t be the end of our relationships. I’m absolutely certain that I’m not the cleanest soul in a sea of filth. Rather, like Paul, I know my chasm of need and consider myself the chief of sinners, the one most in need of a good scrubbing. So it is with all believers. To weed out every toxic person in our vicinity would require not only complete isolation but also our own deaths.

You think Jesus couldn’t have looked at the entire world,—not to mention our own individual hearts—teeming with every vice imaginable, and decided against moving into such a toxic environment? It’s sheer grace that He didn’t. The very things that turn us away from a relationship drew Him toward us. Jesus came to save us from ourselves and then invited us along on His rescue mission to a dying world. We’re called His ambassadors. Why would we protect ourselves when the Lord pushes onward?

One day soon, the darkness will ebb. Every last wisp of our weakness and sin will vanish; in its place, we’ll find wholeness and holiness and an unending string of alleluias. Tongues, tribes, and nations will be united in the praise we’ll pour out to the Lamb. Until that day, we’re beckoned to raid the blackest corners of the earth with compassion, starting with those closest to us. Let’s drop the thinking about who’s toxic and pick up the perspective of God’s great love for desperate sinners.

Note: As you graciously engage “those you formerly considered toxic before reading this post,” make sure you also have strong voices singing truth and beauty over you. It’s important to have fountains as well as drains in your life.

Another note: There’s a difference between what the world calls toxic and actually abusive. I’d encourage you to be aware of that difference and navigate it with wisdom.

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