Do you remember when I said that I have a list of topics mapped out for my 40 week writing journey? It’s so that if I get stuck, I already have some idea of what to write. Well, several weeks ago the topic staring at me was one that I’m not even sure why I wrote down. I was scared to attempt to write a blog post about it. This topic is one that I feel like I am in the minority on. I have been told that I am bold about teaching and speaking the truth, yet I hold back a lot for fear of alienating people who I love. So, instead of writing it, I allowed myself to get into another slump that I am slowly coming out of now.
Today, as I was continuing my quiet time through the Psalms, I came across Psalm 55 again. It spoke very loudly to me, confirming that my view is certainly a biblical one. God is nudging me to write this post, so I will give it my best shot. I pray that if you don’t agree with me that you won’t hate me. I pray that if you don’t agree with me, you will at least search the scriptures for yourself and have a dialogue with me from a place of biblical truth. I pray that if you needed to hear this, you will open your heart fully to the truth of God’s Word.
Toxic people. That’s the topic, and it’s a phrase I am getting weary of hearing. I believe this term has been so overused that it is an insult to those who truly do have toxic people in their life. A man doesn’t seem to support the dreams and goals of his wife and suddenly he’s toxic to her. A grown adult finds out they were adopted and suddenly their parents are toxic and are now cut off from their life. You have been hurt in some way by a friend or family member and automatically label them as toxic. Our world has determined that anything toxic must be cut out, and our culture is deciding for us what is or is not toxic. This should not be the case in the life of the Christian. We must stop letting our culture change the truth of God’s word.
Can a person even be toxic? I believe so, but they are few and far between. They might be toxic, but more likely they are just being human. Human beings are sinners. We mess up, we say the wrong things sometimes. We make the wrong decisions sometimes. Every human being is “toxic” in that every human being falls short of God’s standard. That’s why we need Jesus! That’s why we need grace! There are so many scriptures floating around in my head that I’m not going to focus on today, but I want to mention. Christians are commanded to forgive EVERYONE, for EVERYTHING just as we have been forgiven. Christians are not to judge another’s sin, that’s God’s job. Christians need to examine themselves thoroughly before ever confronting another Christian about their sin, and they need to be sure to follow biblical principles as they confront. This means to always come in a heart of love and to always come for the purpose of some sort of reconciliation.
I’m not saying that there aren’t truly toxic people out there. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take any action at all when we realize the person is toxic. The word toxic has many meanings, but the definitions “dangerous, destructive, harmful, or unsafe” best describe the word when referencing people. Certainly, there is a biblical way for the Christian to properly handle a toxic person. That brings me to Psalm 55. David understood how it felt to have toxic people in his life. King Saul was unstable at best, a complete sociopath at worst. He allowed sin to get in his life and he refused to align his life with God’s will. The result was a damaged mind and troubled spirit. He worked up imaginations that David was somehow a threat to him and his kingdom, and he acted on those false feelings. Saul began hunting David like an animal, sending him into hiding. David got through that season, never once disrespecting or slandering King Saul. Later, he takes another hit from his own son and his trusted counselor. Long story short, David’s son Absalom kills his brother Amnon in revenge for raping their sister. Absalom goes into hiding for a time and when he comes back he conspires along with Ahithophel, David’s counselor, to take over the kingdom. He succeeds, sending David back into hiding as Absalom poses a big threat to his own father. NOW THAT’S TOXIC! It was likely during this time of running from Absalom that Psalm 55 was written, although it is the same sentiment he had during his time running from Saul. David knew toxic people and he gives us a beautiful Psalm to teach us how the Christian should respond to truly toxic people in our life.
Here are a few things I see in Psalm 55:
- If we didn’t love the person, they wouldn’t be toxic. David says in verses 12-13, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.” We expect our enemies to hate us. It doesn’t hurt the same when an enemy says or does something against us. But, a friend? That’s a completely different story. Certainly, when someone who is supposed to protect you and have your best interests at heart turns against you in full out attack mode, they are a toxic person in that moment. They are dangerous, harmful, and unsafe. They are close enough to you to be a great danger to you when they turn on you. This is devastating because you love them greatly. We must remember that we love them. This love doesn’t always change the actions that we have to take to protect ourselves, but it absolutely protects us from anger and bitterness.
- A truly toxic person is someone you are physically afraid of. David was anguished, fearful, trembling in fear (vs 4-5). In verse 3 he describes the toxic people in his life as ones who “bring down trouble upon me and in anger they bear a grudge against me.” He was so scared for his life that in verse 6 he exclaimed “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” He uses words like “violence” and “strife” and in verse 10 he says “destruction is in her midst; oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets” referring to the negative impact on the kingdom from these toxic people. We must be very careful who we label as “toxic people”. Are they out to kill you? Are they conniving to destroy you? Are they plotting and purposefully deceiving people to turn them against you? No? Then they aren’t toxic, they’re simply human. If they are doing things like this, then there are safeguards that need to be put up to protect you and your family from harm.
- Often, truly toxic people are difficult to recognize. They talk a good talk, which is how they are able to get so many people believing their lies. David uses these words to describe toxic people in verse 21: “His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” That’s pretty strong language he uses to describe the motives-vs-speech of people. Actions truly do speak louder than words in the case of the toxic person.
- Lastly, David gives us very clear guidance on how a child of God should handle a toxic person. If you read the story in 2 Samuel, you will see that David took action. He didn’t stay and try to reason with his son. He didn’t put himself in the position to be killed. He hightailed it out of there, set up a base and started to form a plan according to the Lord’s will. The most important thing about the response of David is that he directed all his complaints and troubles to the only one who could do anything about it. He prayed for God to give him peace, to save him from his attackers, and to bring death to his enemy. He says in verse 17 that “evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice.” Dealing with toxic people is draining, it’s stressful, and sometimes scary. Smearing the drama all around you instead of taking your complaint straight to God will only add to your stress and trouble. Take it to God. Let Him handle the toxic people and you just focus on whatever He is directing you to do next.
I know that this is just a brief snapshot into this issue and in no way is meant to address every angle. I just know that we tend to label people as “toxic” because they’ve offended us in some way. That’s not toxic. We all offend people at some time or another without meaning to. We’re human. We all need to practice forgiveness. Instead of getting offended, forgive. Instead of being quick to label someone as “toxic” we must go through the biblical process of confronting an offender. Take a lot of time to pray, asking God for wisdom and discernment. He will help guide you through it and He will fight for you if you are faithfully living in His will.