The Dilemma

Mercy. Compassion. Patience. Long-suffering. Kindness. Gentleness. As Christians, there is a lofty standard. Our attitudes and dispositions must be carefully molded towards holiness. The calling is high; the Lord’s reputation is at stake. So we must learn to bear injustice, love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek. It is not easy and it requires a tremendous amount of strength. Sometimes, in faith, we must override our instincts, desires, will, or common sense to do what we are called to do. And even if it doesn’t end happily, at least we know that we have done what is good and right.

And then: enter the toxic individual. A gentle answer no longer turns away wrath. Showing kindness does not heap burning coals on his head. The measure you use is not measured back to you. The respect you offer is not returned– ever, at least not in any genuine way. You may persevere, trusting you are accomplishing some good, somehow. Months may turn into years, without significant benefit or blessing. Obediently, considering others better than ourselves, we may keep giving anyway. And our lives are sucked dry. It certainly does not feel either good or right.

And so we are faced with a moral dilemma: on one hand, we can deny reality and insist on following our principles, or we can abandon our principles and enter into the ugly fray. Neither option is very attractive, and as it turns out, neither is very effective. So we live torn, alternately suffering in silence and lashing out, ever dreading interacting with the toxic presence. And the more you must, the more miserable you are.

Hence the modern label “toxic” was coined. But surely this has been an issue throughout the ages? Though the “tolerance” philosophy of the 1990’s has bred far more rampant toxicity, this is not new. And God is not one to neglect any major life issue. So what does Scripture really have to say about it? As it turns out, quite a lot. Some by word, more by example.

Many of the biggest Biblical figures had to face their toxic people. David– obligated to Saul and devoted to Absalom– was actively hunted by both for years. Moses– simply being obedient– got the very people he was trying to save caught in the crossfire with Pharaoh. Abigail– living under the thumb of Nabal for years– learned to navigate around him, despite the risk to herself. And even Christ– with His infinite wisdom– was still constantly hounded by the Pharisees and could not keep them silent for long. Knowing His disciples would face the same trouble, He advised them to do the incredibly difficult “do what they say but not what they do.” It is living the proverbial “‘I dare not’ waiting upon ‘I would’,” indefinitely. Silent and endless misery, with you always losing. It tears up the human spirit. That’s why Christian and secular advice alike shout, “Steer clear!”

…but what if you just can’t?!

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