Critiquing Criticism


ironProverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

We can embrace it. Apply it. Disregard it. Hate it. Give it. Criticism. What part should it play in life?

Scripture tells us that “wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6). We don’t easily see our own faults, and at times we need a perspective that cuts through our well-supplied defense mechanisms. Nothing seems to do that more effectively than when we encounter love-laced confrontation. Even in situations as benign as my Public Speaking classes where learning to critique comprises an essential part of the learning process, most students don’t wilt under peer evaluations because comments always begin with honest affirmation of something done well.

But what happens when the criticism isn’t so “friendly?” When the confrontation is not given, as Francis Schaeffer once remarked, “with a tear in the eye?” When it rips open our hearts and thrusts us into a no-confidence zone? The sting can be so strong that we’re tempted to reject not only the messenger but the message as well. Yet because we live in a fallen world, this kind of experience will no doubt come to us all. Only a love for truth—however it is packaged—gives us the courage to take the hits.

Healthy acceptance of criticism comes with limitations. We must never let criticism define us. All too often, when we sense someone is looking at us critically, we tend to act differently. We become self-conscious, paralyzed in the fear of not measuring up. We anticipate rejection, so we put up our walls, which in turn reinforces the rejection…and the cycle continues. This gives far too much power to our criticizers. We are not defined by our faults, but ultimately by redemption.

For some, criticism might be harder to give than receive. I believe our effectiveness as fellow “iron sharpeners,” increases as we remember our own imperfections. My students often include the comment, “I do the same thing,” in their critiques. It dismantles the feeling of being judged and so opens the path to change.

One thing is certain about criticism. The need for it will soon come to an end. Someday my weaknesses…and yours…will no longer plague us. Our “sharpening” will have been completed. And we “will awake with His likeness.”

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