The Power of Negative Thinking

September 22, 2012

Ecclesiastes 1: 13 - 14

“With the help of wisdom I have been at pains to study all that is done under heaven; oh, what a weary task God has given humankind to labor at! I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and what vanity it all is . . .”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

The author of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, apparently missed the memo about being upbeat, cheery, positive, and salting every other sentence with the word “Awesome.”

Like other significant stretches of Scripture -- say Job, Lamentations, many of the Psalms, as well as major chunks of the Prophets and the Gospels -- Ecclesiastes is more scathing than sweet. Qoheleth often finds his fellow human beings more dismaying than inspiring.

While this sort of Eeyore-ish perspective can definitely be overdone, so too can the mandate of “positive thinking” be taken to an extreme.

So I’m grateful for Oscar the Grouch-like Qoheleth. Even more, I’m grateful that there’s honesty in Scripture and the Christian faith about the reality of loss, disappointment, bewilderment and discouragement. Good Friday is as important as Easter, even if the crowds are smaller.

In a recent New York Times column on positive-thinking firewalking (from which I borrowed my title) the writer remarks, “The relentless cheer of positive thinking begins to seem less like an expression of joy and more like a stressful effort to stamp out any trace of negativity. And telling yourself that everything must work out is poor preparation for those times when they don’t. You can try, if you insist, to follow the famous self-help advice to eliminate the word “failure” from your vocabulary — but then you’ll just have an inadequate vocabulary when failure strikes.”

Christian faith not only gives us an adequate and a truthful vocabulary, it does far more. It declares unexpected, even scandalous, news: in Christ God came for the sinful and lost, which is the most inclusive category of all.

Prayer
Grant us grace to live this day in hope, a hope that is honest. Amen.

About the Author
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul's Letters to Timothy for a New Day, and he is also the author of the just-published Book of Exodus: A God is still speaking Bible Study. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at www.anthonybrobinson.com by clicking on Weekly Reading.

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