“No money can purchase outspoken honest judgement, and when we can get it for nothing let us utilize it to the fullest extent.” – Charles Spurgeon on Criticism
“I don’t trust praise.” I sat dumbfounded across the table as I heard my friend say this. Actually, we weren’t at a table, we were sitting at a bar. My companion then began to explain to me his automatic distrust of praise, favoring offenses over admiration. All I could think was, “Why would anyone want to hear criticism?”
My friend was a recent graduate with a Master’s in English. He told me how cutthroat his first creative writing course was. One story involved him being required to listen to the entire class pick apart his most recent work (along with some personal shots from a few in the class who responded particularly negatively to his work. These comments were returned with similar remarks in defense of the author and his work. Arguing ensued. Play nice everyone).
Now this guy had been in college for a while. Let’s just say that this wasn’t his first (or second) time in a Master’s program. Yet in all of his years in these programs, he swears that this class was most beneficial to success. Why? Because it was there that he learned to take criticism well.
Where’s your worth?
If you’re anything like me, you have a problem with criticism. Too harsh of a disapproval will easily get dismissed (along with potentially the relationship). However, if the remark is said too passively, it more than likely doesn’t even register as a concern. Donald Trump being appointed the U.S. ambassador to Mexico is more likely to happen than for many of us to humbly accept criticism (remember this was two years ago). Why is it so hard to accept the flaws others see in us?
Here’s my thought on the matter: the reason we can’t handle criticism often is because we find our sense of worth in that which is being criticized. How about an illustration? Let’s say I walked up to a construction worker on and said to him or her, “I don’t like how your shoes look.” The worst response I could get would be confusion or annoyance. However, let’s say I walk up to a fashion designer and say, “I don’t like how your shoes look.” Here I might receive the verbal punishment due a drug lord or serial killer. Why the difference? It’s the same statement but said to two very different people. One holds no personal value in their foot apparel, the other, tremendous value.
Going back to the story of my friend, the reason he could appreciate criticism from his colleagues was because he eventually displaced his sense of worth from his writings to another place. The same must be said of us who fear criticism. In order for us to have peace and take criticism for what it’s worth (which is a lot considering how messed up many of us are) we must find our sense of value in something that cannot be taken away or critiqued.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Oftentimes, the hardest words to hear are the most loving ones. It takes a true friend to do metaphorical heart surgery on us. (Good) criticism can be compared with a surgeon’s knife, cutting only what needs to be cut in order to heal. Critique comes best from a place of relationship, where we can both experience the reality of one’s flaws yet retain the love and sense of worth we so desperately need.
Only in Jesus Christ can you experience the Perfect Friend whose wounds are eternally faithful. Jesus brings us the ultimate reality, that we are sinful beyond all comprehension. The worst critiques about you are most likely the truest. Yet in this reality, we also see the truth of our worth. The self-sustaining, self-satisfying Creator of the universe would look in the face of death and be devoured for our sake. On the cross our flawed condition and infinite worth rings out in the most joyful funeral dirge the world has ever heard.
This post opens with a particularly apt quote by Baptist preacher and preaching college professor Charles Spurgeon. To him, a pastor’s best asset was the criticism he received. It made a man called to the pastorate more refined and capable.
For those who know Jesus and trust in His life, death, and resurrection, criticism is robbed of its sting. No longer is their personal value wrapped up in anything besides Him. In that light, critiques become merely observations. A person’s sense of value is no longer placed in performance so a lack of performing or appearing well no longer holds any weight in one’s life.
To close, for those in Christ, criticisms are merely temporary. A Day is coming where all flaws will fade away. When Christ returns, the criticisms that we experienced before will come untrue and the word critique will become a lost expression of a dead language.