Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Bite of Criticism

While I was recently reading through the book of Job, I was reminded of the dangers and disastrous effects that often come through criticism. Now, of course, criticism does play a valid role in our society as it reminds us of where we've gone awry and what we need to do in order to get back on course. It helps us in areas in which we need to grow and develope our skills and abilities in. We would call this sort of criticism the "constructive" type. We've all faced this form of criticism at one time or another in our life. If you haven't, then I'm not sure where your from! And, as you probably know, even constructive criticism (i.e. smile more, say it this way instead, you could be a better student if....) is tough to take. In some way, we feel that we've been violated and that we've been told that there is something wrong with us. Nonetheless, this form of criticism is supposed to help us and if often does if it is given and received in the proper way.

However, there is another form of criticism that I'll call the "Biting" kind that literally tears us up inside and can linger on in our memory for years - maybe even a lifetime (I don't know yet). It's the form of criticism that makes even the most gentle of us turn defensive in a big hurry. And, this is precisely the form of criticism that we see playing out with Job and his three "friends" in the opening chapters of the book bearing his name. Upright Job has been saddled with some pretty big obstacles to overcome. At first it was simply (or not so simply) trying to overcome the loss of his children, his livestock, and some other material possessions. Even through all that, Job continues to revere God despite his own wife's comments to curse him instead. Then, Job is tested a second time, only this time he's riddled with boils from head to foot - I would imagine that this was not a pleasant condition to say the least. Yet, despite all of this, Job only curses his birth. He then goes on to ask the difficult "why" type questions that I know I would have been asking if under the same sort of conditions. No, in fact, I would have probably cursed God by that point. Anyway, getting back to Job, he didn't curse God and yet he wasn't afraid to ask God some of the tough questions.

By this point in the story, Job's three friends have arrived and it's Eliphaz that responds first to what he's just heard Job say. Interestingly enough, Eliphaz first condemns Job for needing some encouragement. Job was apparently known for offering others words of encouragement but is now wavering himself when trouble strikes a little to close to home. I'm not sure about you, but this is probably not the first thing I'd want to hear out of the mouth of one of my supposed friends. Not to mention that Job's own wife was already criticizing him for his continued worship of God despite such grave circumstances. Then, as if that wasn't enough criticism to hear, Eliphaz essentially tells Job that he's a sinner. "Things like this don't happen to the just and upright. That's not how God works," Eliphaz is saying. Job, who knows his own heart better than anyone, including his wife and his closest friends, says otherwise.

All this to say, criticism like this hurts. It "bites" down hard and is equally hard to forget. When the story ends, Job has been given back more than he's lost (with the exception of his children who were killed). Still, I'm not sure he ever forgot the criticism that came from his wife or his friend Eliphaz. For the readers of this book in it's entirety, you know that even more criticism follows in the remainder of the 42 chapters. I say all this because I'm concerned with the scars that our "bite" can have on others. It's easy to criticize - let's make no qualms about it. It's part of our propensity to gossip and wanting to talk about the speck in others while we ignore the much larger log in our own life. Nonetheless, it's not right and it's not helpful, only hurtful. If your going to criticize, do so in a loving way. By doing so, you'll be remembered in a far better light than if your criticize with a bite. Scars take years to heal if they ever fully heal on this side of heaven.