When Negative is Positive

24 May

In case this title strikes you as odd, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a math person…so don’t worry, I know what I’m talking about. And it’s not numbers.

A family member of mine recently had some tests run. The report that came back was fundamentally unintelligible when I looked at it (I know math, not medicine). The number of abbreviations and technical jargon used was incredible. I consider myself fairly literate, and I was astounded by how little meaning I could derive from several pages of written text.

Every once in a while, I could recognize a specific test result, usually shortened to “pos” or “neg.” I understood that this meant that a particular test came out “positive” or “negative.” But what does that mean? Is “positive” positive? Or is it negative? Is “negative” negative? Or is it positive?

Sometimes, it’s good to be negative. A result of being HIV negative is welcomed by most people.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to be positive. A result of being positive for rubella means that you are successfully vaccinated and possess the proper antibodies in order to fight off a future infection of this disease.

So how do we know when a positive test result is actually positive (a good thing), or when negative is really positive?

Apart from advanced medical training, it all depends upon context. Sometimes, negative is negative. But sometimes it’s positive. It depends upon what you’re talking about.

But more broadly in life, it can be difficult for us to determine when any given circumstance is positive or negative. We often try to judge based on immediate outcome or reaction. Losing one’s job is a negative thing. Getting a promotion is a positive thing.

But what if getting that promotion results in a ridiculous increase in hours required at work, a vastly more stressful work day, and a breakdown in relationships with co-workers? Even though there was a substantial, immediate salary increase, is this promotion still ultimately a good thing?

Losing a job often leads to financial hardship, emotional upheaval (anxiety, attacks on self-esteem), and the loss of physical comforts. But what if losing a particular job sends you on a new life journey, as you begin exploring employment in a completely new area (whether a different geographic location or a brand new vocation). And what if that journey eventually (perhaps years later) leads you into a dream job where you really feel like you are doing the work that you were made to do? Is the job loss still ultimately a bad thing?

Our perspective is so limited, our immediate reactions so strong, that it is nearly impossible for us to ever properly label any circumstance in life as good or bad. Sure, there are ugly, horrible, yucky things that happen in life, and people do vicious things to one another. These things are negative, but that’s not necessarily the end result. The ultimate analysis has not yet been rendered; the final outcome has yet to be seen.

I can point to any number of occasions in my life when broken relationships, “missed” opportunities, and various undesirable discomforts provided openings and avenues that I never would have explored, and which led to good things.

Of course, even in saying that, I have to realize that my journey is not yet over, and so any statement of “positive” or “negative” is all provisional; we won’t really know until it’s all over.

And that’s why I’m thankful that it’s not up to me to make the determination. I don’t have to judge each event in life and label it as good or bad, positive or negative. I am to live in faithfulness, wisdom, and obedience–in light of whatever I know at the time. And trust God with the rest.

I have no medical training whatsoever–except for a long-lapsed CPR certification. I actually changed majors so that I wouldn’t have to take basic chemistry. I’m squeamish about surgery and anything having to do with my eyes. I would’ve made a terrible doctor.

True enough, if I were a doctor, then I would know when some of those positive results are really negative, and vice-versa.  But in the grand scheme of life, my judgment would still be pretty limited.

So, I think I’ll stick to math–where positives are positive and negatives are negative…unless of course, you put two negatives together, and then they become positive.

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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Life



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