January 22, 2020

A Bad Result Doesn’t Mean You Made a Bad Decision

Gary Thomas — 

Having a net worth of nearly two billion dollars, American investor Howard Marks is a fan of poker and other games that combine skill and chance. He writes an occasional investment letter and in a recent one talks about what he’s learned from reading Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Annie Duke has won over four million dollars in professional poker, so she knows a little bit about making quick decisions without always having all the desired information.

Marks uses Duke’s insights to come up with a few conclusions for investing that are also true for dealing with toxic people.

First and most importantly, “You can’t tell the quality of a decision from the outcome.” You can make a wise and reasoned decision with someone and even respond in the perfect way, but the relationship, office situation, family dynamics, or marital issues may still “blow up.” That doesn’t mean you made a bad decision, however. Toxic or evil people don’t always respond to life-giving truth in a healthy way. In fact, they rarely do.


In When to Walk Away, I mention how God’s decision to have the incarnate Jesus born into this world eventually led to the “slaughter of the innocents” as Herod tried to prevent the Messiah from growing up. Herod ordered all boys around Bethlehem two years old and younger to be murdered. Was this God’s fault? Should he have anticipated it and decided to forgo the incarnation? Of course not. God made a wise and good decision; an evil man responded to that good and wise decision in an evil way and acted wickedly.

I could have also cited how after God delivers Peter from prison in Acts 12 (A.D. 41) by having an angel wake Peter up and walk him past two guard posts, Herod commanded that all the guards (sixteen in all) be tortured and then put to death (Acts 12:19). The supernatural deliverance of one disciple led to the torture and murder of sixteen Roman soldiers. Does that mean God should have allowed an early leader of the church to be murdered before his time of ministry was up, just to prevent the deaths of sixteen others?

Looking through the long-term lens of church history and God’s work on this earth, having Jesus be born and delivering Peter from prison were both good, wise and life-giving decisions for God to make—even though both of those acts resulted in the deaths of dozens of “innocent” people. An evil response to a loving decision doesn’t make the loving decision wrong. It just demonstrates that we live in a fallen world.

There’s another aspect to dealing with toxic people, however. Annie Duke points out that when you make a good decision between two unappealing choices, the situation isn’t likely to turn out well regardless. Toxic people can act in such a toxic manner that there isn’t a solution available in which nobody gets hurt or angry. And sometimes the situation/relationship can be so toxic that the best even a skillful surgeon can do is try to limit the damage. That doesn’t mean you made a bad decision; it just means you were forced to confront an awful situation as wisely as possible.  

Here’s today’s message in a nutshell: when dealing with toxic people you might make a good and wise decision that honors God and yet you may still be fired, slandered, or even divorced. In a fallen world, a wise process doesn’t always lead to a pleasant or even “victorious” outcome. Toxic people have a tendency to take their “pound of flesh” even as they are stymied and confronted.

What I want to do with this short post is remove the guilt some of you may have because you employed the Scriptures and advice from When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People and the relationship/office environment/church setting wasn’t “fixed.” That doesn’t mean you messed up. It doesn’t mean that if you had made a different decision or said something different things would have turned out better. In fact, things may well have turned out much worse. Plus, you can’t know if your healthy response will eventually be used to bring conviction to the person in question somewhere down the road (maybe even after you’re gone).

There are no guarantees when we’re forced to relate to toxic people. We can and should be wise and loving with every decision, but we can’t always “fix” the immediate worlds we live in. Learn how to own and live with the process, not the outcome.

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20 responses to A Bad Result Doesn’t Mean You Made a Bad Decision

  1. I felt very soon after marrying my 2nd husband (I was widowed the first time) that the marriage was the biggest mistake of my life. In thinking over everything these past couple of months, I realized that MAYBE it was not a mistake. MAYBE it was that my husband did not step up to his promise to love, honor and cherish. Which he did not. I think that this epiphany was from God. The coldness actually began on our honeymoon. After trying to fix it (I was the one trying) for 5 years, we just now divorced. Even though this is the last thing I would have ever predicted in my life story, I will be so much better off. I had always felt though, that this could have been a great marriage. We both liked doing the same activities, were in the same church, and knew people in common. It all looked good on paper. So MAYBE it wasn’t a mistake on my part. You can’t make someone be their best self (which he was when we were dating). I know more than I ever wanted to about this type of person, and have become all too familiar with the red flags of one who does not want to change for the better, and has no intention of doing it.

  2. I read this blog and I’m embarrassed to ask myself, “Am I this toxic person?” I love the Lord and have been a follower of Jesus for 40+ years now. 16 years ago I walked away from an emotionally abusive 17 year marriage. I saw a Christian psychologist for 2 years post divorce trying to heal and I thought I was healed. After 15 years of being single again and waiting for the Lord to bring me a godly man, he did! We knew almost immediately that the Lord had brought us together and after a year and a half we were married. That’s when I began to have emotional problems. I don’t yell or spew hate, I simply become overwhelmed with fear and panic when conflict arises and want to retreat or run away. This was not in character for who I am. But I betrayed my marriage after just two months and moved out. I realized immediately that I was wrong. I begged for forgiveness. I’ve begun therapy with a Christian counselor who says I have PTSD. I want to work on myself and our marriage. I know that this was so deeply hidden in me that it could only have been revealed in the context of an intimate marriage relationship. But my husband will not see me now. We have been married for three months and separated a month. He won’t speak to me. He won’t see me. He says we made a mistake. I believe the Lord is using the marriage to heal me and help me grow. But I’m afraid my husband sees me as toxic. He loves the Lord as I do, and quite honestly this behavior is as out of character for him and mine was of me. I am determined to continue to pray and fast until the Lord brings about reconciliation. We desperately need prayer. Marriage is scared and we both knew without a doubt that the Lord brought us together. I want to believe that the Lord will restore our marriage and heal us both, but like that father proclaimed in the bible, “I believe but help my unbelief!” If you’re reading this please pray for us.

  3. Thank you so much for being a voice in the evangelical world about a subject that is often misunderstood and unwittingly used for evil. Thank you for turning the tables around.

  4. Needed to hear this as I am dealing with a toxic husband. I’ve been separated for over a year and have been waiting on God to show me my path. Husband wants reconciliation, but after egregiously violating our wedding vows with sexual and financial deceit beyond my comprehension, I am coming to the conclusion no amount of counseling will fix this. He shows no true signs of repentance and refuses to stop drinking. At this point I can only assume he is trying to salvage his financial outcome. No good options here and all I can do is leave and save myself. Thank you for a great post. I rarely sign up for these things, but these articles you write are always so excellent and well thought out.

  5. I needed that at this very moment. Thank you

  6. Validating thoughts and verses. Thank you.

    Only, I’d rather call some people ‘unsafe to me’ rather than ‘toxic’. God loves everyone and pursues everyone since He created man and woman good from the beginning. The ‘unsafe’ ones haven’t reached their God-potential…yet. But they will…one day, whether here, or in Eternity.

  7. Wow! This was very timely. I am experiencing this right now. Thanks for reminding me that yes, we do live in a fallen world and outcomes are not always as we expect or need them to be. Thankk you so much for sharing, it will help a lot of people.

  8. Christina Dougherty January 22, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Thank you, Gary. Had to read that one twice. So many good nuggets. I sometimes find myself caught between two less-than-desirable situations or places. AKA a rock and a hard place. I usually stay put until I have peace about either decision. But the key is to walk through it with God. Sometimes I’ll be spinning and I have to stop and pray. Bring God into it. The outcome is definitely in His hands, not mine.

    • Thanks Christina. Howard’s article really helped me think things through and learn how to apply those Scriptures.

  9. You are so right on man! Your book has been given by the LORD in a very timely manner in my life. Thank you for writing it and obey God in this manner. I know you went through “hell” yourself to understand this… thanks for taking more lemons and turning out lemonade!

  10. Gary, I have been reading this book and praying a lot and learning how to pour into my healthy family (husband and children) while not investing in the twisted, disfunctional web of toxic siblings. I feel freedom today for the first time and hope in the future that I am not crazy and I cannot change their behaviors nor their reactions to my boundaries. I am still sad and grieving that they might not change but I now understand that it’s not up to me. I thank the Lord for you writing this book and for your encouragements along the way.

    • Thank you Ann. As I quote the counselor in the book, with these kinds of people, it’s more productive to grieve than try to fix. I’m sorry you’re facing this, but pray God’s strength, wisdom and discernment for you in the days ahead.

  11. Thanks for the encouraging words. I’m dealing with a “toxic “ son (mid 30’s). I’ve confronted in love with a negative response. I’ve felt somewhat guilty but know I did the right thing. Praying he will by God’s divine intervention will turn back to the Lord and his beautiful family.

    • Thanks Bevly. You might find Kyle Idleman’s “Praying for Your Prodigal” to be an excellent and encouraging resource to focus your prayers.

  12. Carolyn Setliff January 22, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. I am a born “fixer,” and am trying to give it up.

    Another problem way too common among those who claim to be believers is:

    The total “shunning” and adult children to their parents and entire family, for no just cause.
    One of those in the marriage gives the ultimatum often: It’s either me or them. The “defense” is honoring the vow taken in marriage. There are many, many examples. As far as I know, this problem has been unaddressed at all. Thank you for your help.

    • I can so relate to being a born fixer. Someone recently told me I was a magnet to broken. Along with you I desire to learn to just place what is broken in God’s hands and stop trying to fix it myself. After 60 years of life it’ll take a miracle to be able to do that. Praise God he is a miracle-working awesome God.

    • Carolyn,

      I’m hearing more and more about this adult shunning of good parents. And you’re right–I don’t see anybody really addressing it yet, but something certainly seems to be going on.

  13. Healing words, Gary. And just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

  14. This article is extremely helpful, especially the references to scripture. Thank you so very much.