Toxic positivity

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”


At least that’s one of the things that people would say to Kate Bowler, the national expert on the history of the prosperity gospel.

But would you say that to someone with Stage IV colon cancer?

In her book, No Cure for Being Human and Other Truths I Need to Hear, Kate tells of recovering in the hospital from surgery to remove as much cancer as possible from her insides. After several days, she got up the strength to wheel her IV into the hospital gift shop.

She began pulling books off the shelf and dumping them on the floor. Dozens of them. 

The manager asked, “May I help you, ma’am?”

“Yes,” Kate said. “I need you to know that these books are not suitable to be sold in a hospital,” pointing to the pile of Christian best-sellers she’d made on the floor.

Every book was one that Kate had poured over during her ten-year study of the prosperity gospel. She’d interviewed their celebrity authors.

Kate pointed to Your Best Life Now.

“He’s writing about the prosperity gospel,” Kate said. “He’s saying that God will reward you with money and health if you have the right kind of faith.”

“You can’t sell this in a hospital. You can’t sell this to me,” she said, pointing to her hospital gown and IV.

Kate pointed to one book after another. “This book tells me to claim my healing using Bible verses. This one tells me that if I can unleash my positive thoughts, I can get rid of negativity in my life.”

In an interview for CNN, Kate said, “Our minds are powerful, but forcing our minds to conjure up optimism is not always healthy. American culture got hooked on the idea that everything is possible for those who believe. But the casualty is honesty. We overemphasize our own abilities and end up saddling ourselves with unnecessary shame and frustration. Life is hard enough without imagining that we are not simply suffering, but failing.”

The Apostle Paul, the first great Christian missionary and author of the letters that make up much of the New Testament, constantly faced closed doors as he travelled the Mediterranean world. His faith led him to be beaten, stoned, and more. Paul never claimed he was living his best life.

But he knew Jesus was with him in his journeys.

He knew Jesus would be waiting when his journeys were through.

Miracle story

A long time ago I heard a motivational speaker talk about why we don’t follow our dreams in life. He said we want a nice house, so we end up with a big mortgage. We want a comfortable lifestyle, want our kids in the best schools, so we need a big job to pay the bills. We want people to like us, so we devote ourselves to living up to their expectations. 

We are free to pursue all those things, and yet, when we do, sometimes we’re not really free at all.

The pandemic has led people in all walks of life to rethink their priorities. It’s been called the “The Great Resignation.”

There’s a scene in Matthew 9 that might be a model for us.

A tax collector named Matthew (who wrote the Gospel which bears his name) was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus came by and said, “Follow me.”

According to Matthew, he just got up and followed, no questions asked.

If it was hard for him to give up the wealth that tax collectors enjoyed, Matthew doesn’t say.

What’s interesting is that Matthew puts this story in the middle of a long string of miracle stories.

It seems that Matthew wants us to know that his call to be a disciple was a miracle too. 

Does God give you more that you can handle?

Hershael York is the senior pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. He once preached on 2 Corinthians 12, where the Apostle Paul famously mentioned his “thorn in the flesh.” York asked, “Wouldn’t you like to see one of these healers on TV put their hands on somebody and say, ‘Just a minute; God says you’ve got to stay sick’”?

We’re probably never going to see that. It doesn’t make for good TV. We prefer happy endings. We expect the problem to get resolved by the end of the show. And if, God forbid, the problem doesn’t get fixed, we say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

York pointed out that Paul was arguably the greatest servant of the Lord in history, yet when Paul asked God to relieve him of his malady, God told Paul, “I want you to keep it.”

As a preacher I’ve made it my mission to make the orthodox Christian faith as clear and understandable as I can. But sometimes we just have to sit with two seemingly contradictory ideas. Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren writes that, “Perplexity is built into the Christian faith. Ours is not primarily a faith of explanation, but of salvation.”

There’s a reason it’s called the Christian “Faith,” and not the Christian “Logic” or the Christian “Proof.”

Sorry, but we often get more than we can handle.

But not more than God can handle.