These days, everybody’s a critic.
Just look at the things posted in the comment section of any article or online posting. You’re bound to find several people posting long explanations of everything they disliked or disagreed with.
Criticism isn’t always bad, but often, the way it is expressed in our culture isn’t very helpful. Technology has shifted a great deal of our social interaction from personal connection to online anonymity. That anonymity has created Internet personas who have a knack for starting arguments.
Unfortunately, Christians are no exception. For followers of Jesus, who claim to have the love of God in their hearts, we don’t always act in a manner fitting of the God we serve. Jesus tells His followers we will be known by their love. Anyone reading our online postings or the comments written under Christian articles by Christian people might struggle to see it. There are few people more biting or cruel than a Christian who believes you have your theology wrong. In the name of protecting the faith, we use weaponized dogma to destroy anyone who disagrees with us.
The Christianity community often seems to be just as critical as anyone else. We fight and argue with each other. Even our “ friendly debates” end up sounding pretty hostile at times. Anyone who takes a stance on anything will get criticized.
Mean-spirited criticism has become so prevalent in our lives we don’t even notice it. But maybe we should take a second look.
Criticism as a Crutch
In college, I would often sit around watching various sports games with friends. We would comment, like everyone does, about players who made mistakes and missed opportunities. “That guy is terrible!” We’d say when someone missed the ball. “He should be fired!”
Later I realized how ridiculous it was. There we were sitting on our comfortable couches watching and mocking players with both talent and knowledge far superior to anything we possessed. Yet we felt completely justified criticizing how they played the game. We had no reservations about criticizing their performance even we when ourselves would never be capable of competing on their level.
One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
For all the time we spend criticizing others, what good comes from it? What beneficial fruit has it reaped in our lives? Has it strengthened our relationships? Matured us? Challenged us to grow? Improved the quality of our lives? Enhanced our person skill? Or is criticism merely the crutch we use to justify our personal passivity?
Do we criticize because we know better and could do better or do we criticize because we are cowards too afraid to try and fail ourselves? A lot of times, the problem is not with the person criticized but with the one doing the criticizing.
Creators Instead of Critics
There are times and places for constructive criticism, but often, we just want to be right, so we jump in before we’ve really considered what the other person has put into the thing we’re criticizing. What if we took a break from criticizing and instead tried to create? What if we got off the sidelines and got in the game? What if instead of complaining about how someone else did something, we tried to do it ourselves?
In Genesis chapter 1, God creates. He makes the world and everything in it. When the cosmos has been formed, when every detail was made just right, God made man. God created us in His image. We are made in the image of a creator. We were created with the capacity for creativity.
I am not much of an artist. I mean, I can draw a mean stick figure that would give Picasso a run for his money, but that’s about it. I’m not great with music. When I hear great music or see quality art I’m impressed because it’s a skill I lack. I get lost in the wonder of the talent and creativity a person must possess to make the things they make. I appreciate what others create because I myself am not gifted with many forms of artistic creativity.
Whether we’re personally artistic or not, we should appreciate that others express their creativity. It may not always be our style. We might not always agree with how that creativity gets expressed, but we should respect that they are creating something.
Called to Create
Criticism is easy. It’s lazy. It’s safe. It’s a way for us to present ourselves as better than we are by degrading what others have created or accomplished. We are not reflecting the image of God when we criticize. We are radiating it when we create.
The goal of a Christian should not be to tear down the work of others but to build up the mission of Jesus. It should be to use our own gifts in whatever creative ways we can to express the love and grace of God to the world.
We are all creative in different ways. Some with paint, some with words, some with numbers, some with what they can make with their hands. We are made in the image of a creator. We best serve Him when we create, not when we tear down the creations of someone else.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.