I suspect everyone has had that moment. The moment when you realize that you did not see what was there in front of you, because it was hidden by your own blind spot. It can make your stomach turn, as you replay scenes that perplexed you, adding this new information and seeing if it makes better sense of reality.
When I think about my own life, this question often leads to trembling prayer: Do I see things rightly? The psalmist prayed, ‘Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults’ (Psalm 19:12). It can be painful to discover hidden faults, precisely because we realize they are so obvious to everyone else.
Fortunately, our critics—even the ones that do not mean well—can be a gift from God. Here are three things to remember in order to benefit from criticism:
- We want to know the truth. A survey was done years ago that asked this question—‘Would you rather live your life falsely believing your job to be important and your achievements of value, so long as you never found out and always had a comfortable life—or would you rather experience significant hardship but be respected by others?’ The answers men gave overwhelmingly confirmed they would rather suffer hardship with respect than be in the dark about reality. We want to know the truth, and often times, even well-meaning friends withhold it for fear of hurting us. It is a gift to learn something true, however it comes.
- God controls every criticism. Satan is called the accuser. He is the great criticizer of mankind. Yet we see from Job 1:12 and 2:6 that Satan, though powerful, is on God’s leash. He cannot do anything which God does not permit. This is good news, because while Satan criticizes to destroy, ‘God works all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). We need not be tormented by wondering about the motives of others—God means it for our help. One obvious purpose of God in all criticism is that it encourages a proper humility before Him.
- Sin and shame do not have final say. What is terrifying about criticism is it feeds our fears that we are inadequate, that we are worthless. Those conclusions are not correct. We are created in the image of God. We have been made for a purpose. God in His mercy has redeemed those who, though unworthy, hope in His infinitely worthy Son, Jesus Christ. If we believe and rest in Jesus, our sins and shortcomings are covered by His blood. We are accepted. This enables us to face difficult truth and to learn from it, without fear that our faults will be fatal.
It will never be easy to suffer criticism, but responding to it well can foster great growth. I am so thankful for the example of Charles Simeon, a pastor in England in the 1800’s. He served a congregation of people who opposed him for the first ten years of his ministry. He said, ‘If I suffer with a becoming spirit, my enemies, though unwittingly, must of necessity do me good.’
May God give us that perspective in our lives today!