“Misery Theology”


“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” 2 Peter 2:19

THOUGH GOD INTENDED FOR CHRISTIANS TO BE JOYFUL, SOME CHRISTIANS HAVE DEVELOPED AN UNCANNY ABILITY TO SPOT THE CLOUD IN EVERY SILVER LINING. “Misery Theology” is comprised of core beliefs sometimes perpetuated among unhealthy Christians that rob us of the joy the Lord delights to share. While it is true that Christians will suffer, and our temporal happiness is not God’s first priority, I am convinced that Christians should be the most joyful people in the world.

I am so thankful to be in a church family of healthy, happy Christians today as I recover from “Misery Theology.” Toxic faith is a painful part of my past and represents the deepest wounds of my life. I hope you haven’t been hurt by it and cannot relate, but some of you will find this post to echo your own experience. Negative (and false) messages that play over and over in our minds like a broken record may have devastating affects on our lives physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. John 8:32 says “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In the same manner, lies and deception enslave us. Some of the most harmful forms of deception involve warped and twisted theology. In a recent class, I heard from a couple who spent several years as house parents in an orphan home. They shared that the most broken children were not the ones who had overly permissive parents, nor the neglected, but those who had been subjected to overbearing strictness and abuse. Children need a loving home with appropriate boundaries and discipline, and so it is with each of us in our faith. God is a loving Father who lives to see his children sing, dance, and laugh.

I am aware that 2 Peter 2:19 in context refers to those who seek to use grace as a license to sin. Ironically, spiritually abusive legalists who err in the other direction frequently suffer the same plight including out of control anger, anxiety, secret addictions, eating disorders, volatile relationships, and instability.

The following are examples, often direct quotes, of “Misery Theology.” Have you heard, believed, or repeated any of these? If so, it may be robbing you and others around you of the fullness of joy!

  1. “Happiness is selfish.” It surely can be, but it can be a blessing from God when it is derived from living out God’s higher purpose for your life.
  2. “Work is a curse. It is foolish to seek work you enjoy.” Work is also a blessing and intended to be fulfilling as we use the gifts God gave us. Work existed in the garden before the curse.
  3. “Positive preaching must be false.” Yes, some people actually believe this.
  4. “A happy person must be living in denial about reality.” In truth, a happy person recognizes reality, but chooses to focus on the positives in life.
  5. “Being righteous usually precludes being liked by others or having many friends at all.” While Christians will have enemies for our beliefs, our mannerism ought never to be the cause.
  6. “We should remember the death of Christ, not his birth.” I know for a fact the Grinch is a church-goer.
  7. “If you feel good after going to church, you’re doing something wrong.” In some churches, guilt and fear seem to be the preferred emotional response to worship and preaching.
  8. “The primary definition of love is ‘tough love’.” These folks focus on the negative aspects of discipline while overlooking how love is first patient, kind, and longsuffering.
  9. “Love and grace are liberal concepts.” While often distorted, love and grace are core to the gospel and should be preached, lived, and sung about often.
  10. “Any church above 80 or so members must be teaching false doctrine to appeal to the ‘masses’.” Some have actually tried to calculate how many faithful people likely exist using rough figures from Noah and the flood, and used that as a sermon topic.
  11. “An important reason we should fellowship is so that when we have to sever fellowship they’ll miss us.” Believe it or not, this is and #10 are direct quotations.
  12. “Any and every sin immediately separates one from God.” 1 John teaches us that the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us making it possible to stay in a saved relationship with God in spite of ongoing struggles.
  13. “One must confess and repent of every sin in order to be forgiven.” This assumes we are even aware of them all!
  14. “Most people will be lost.” Many will also be saved!
  15. “Heaven will be an eternal, intangible, boring church service in gold and white.” I believe heaven will be more like the garden of Eden, filled with wonder and majesty and glory.
  16. “One cannot know for sure if he is saved.” Romans 8 says we can have confidence and assurance in Jesus Christ. This single belief can be an underlying cause of chronic anxiety.
  17. “Hobbies and personal interests are vain.” God enjoys diverse experiences and interests; he created all of them for us to enjoy, in the proper priority.
  18. “Everything in this physical world is evil.” The world is corrupted, but physical beauty, wealth, pleasure, and life are all wonderful things that God created to be appreciated and enjoyed. That which is spiritual and eternal has lasting worth and deserves our heart’s first devotion.
  19. “God is far away on his throne judging.” He is also a very near and dear friend.
  20. “The Holy Spirit just means ‘the Bible’.” The affect of this belief is that it’s all on you, your reading comprehension skills, and your ability to perform morally to save yourself. You’re on your own. But the truth is, the Spirit of God is with us and within us. We are never alone.
  21. “The grace of God is only for the very near perfect who presently have no sin in their life at all.” The vagueness and impossibility of this can only leave one guessing whether he is good enough to be saved or not. The grace of God is for all who come to him in faith, desperate for his help and healing.
  22. “A sinner must be brought forward before the whole church to confess the specifics of their sin, even when it is private.” Most of the time, private confession to a safe and dear friend and to God is all that is needed. Confession is intended to be healing, not shaming (James 5:16).
  23. “Church music should be intentionally mediocre because it’s really just about the heart.” This is wrong on so many levels. We ought to give the Lord our best! I believe God loves good music and enjoys when we give him our individual best, however humble that may be.
  24. “We must deal with our deepest, darkest struggles alone.” God intended the church to be a loving, safe community. A hospital for the broken, not a museum for the saints.
  25. “It’s my responsibility to fix every little defect and control others to make sure they are saved.” This stems from the idea of a harshly judging God and the need to be nearly perfect to be saved. While well intended, those who attempt to do this find they cannot control or fix others, and their own lives become unhappy and unmanageable as they attempt to do so.
  26. “I would rather be too conservative than too liberal.” There is no biblical basis for such a statement.
  27. “Christians ought not show emotion in worship or really at any time at all.” While Christians are not directed by emotion, one cannot truly look at what Jesus did on the cross and not weep. One cannot hear of the resurrection and not shout and sing for joy!
  28. “God is a domineering dictator.” While God does have all authority, he has given free will. He sets boundaries and consequences, then allows us to choose. He never forces or controls.
  29. “Those in authority positions, such as managers, fathers, and husbands, have God’s delegated authority to dominate and control others.” Just as this is a false view of God, it is a false, ineffective, and harmful view of authority in government, work, and especially in the family system. Jesus showed us how to lead with love through service, and allowed others to choose whether they would follow or not.
  30. “It is a sin to eat a steak that is anything less than well done.” This is a prime example of ignorance turned dogma.

And finally, my favorite, which I have saved for last…

31. “God does not smile.” I have actually heard people discuss this one. Joy and its various expressions are manifestations of the goodness of God.

Storm Clouds and Thunder
(to the tune of “Blue Skies and Rainbows”)

Storm clouds and thunder
And lightning from heaven
Are all I can see when
The preacher’s preachin’ at me.

I know the flames of hell are lickin’ at my feet;
I’ll never be good enough.
Tho’ Christ died for me,
My sins are all I see;
So I’ll try harder to measure up

Dead grass and thistles
Decaying in winter;
The curse of the Master—
We die more each day

Deep pit of fire—
The shrieking that surrounds me—
All make me despair of
The horror of it all.


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