I’ve been thinking a lot lately about criticism. It’s everywhere. There’s a huge amount of it on the Internet, and then there are TV shows such as Iron Chef, American Idol, the endless variety of reality shows, news commentators arguing and attacking each other, candidates on the political trail, and on and on, all of which foster, encourage, and perpetuate it.
There’s no doubt that it’s in the air. But is it right? Is it Christian?
You might be thinking: “What’s wrong with criticism? How else can we tell what’s right, or good, from what’s wrong and what’s to be avoided, denied, or condemned?” Or you might cite the Master Christian, Jesus, and all of those that he apparently criticized such as the money changers in the Temple, or the Pharisees and Sadducees—the religious authorities of his time and culture.
But there is another way—spiritual discernment.
The differences between criticism and spiritual discernment are as distinct as night and day.
Being critical of others is actually finding fault with them. It’s personal at its core. It’s a “me versus them” mentality. And it’s one that always brings about destruction in some form. Ultimately, it seeks to injure the other individual while trying to bolster our own position—a position that, if we’re honest, is often founded on sand instead of on rock. If we need that kind of bolstering, we should probably be turning that spotlight of inspection on our own lives to see what needs to be corrected.
Spiritual discernment, on the other hand, helps us to see with our God-given spiritual vision that which is actually true and real, and by comparison what is false and unreal. We look at our fellow man and woman as God made them—perfect, whole, and indestructible—rather than seeing the false mortal view filled with faults and shortcomings. We also begin to see ourselves from the same elevated vantage point.
Contrary to criticism, spiritual discernment aids us in fulfilling the requirements of the Two Great Commandments of Christianity: Love for God, and love for our neighbor. We are honoring God’s creation for what it really is by seeing it as God actually made it—entirely spiritual, good, and complete. And we’re loving our neighbor as we want to be loved—divinely. In each case, we are helping to bring about healing by seeing the true picture.
So did Jesus really criticize? I don’t think so. His rebuke was always impersonal and spiritual. He condemned the action, behavior, rigidity, materiality, and anti-spirituality that were being exhibited by those individuals—not to harm them, but to save them from their sins and diseases. His motive was to bless, not to injure.
When writing about Jesus’ rebuke, Mary Baker Eddy stated (Science and Health, p. 30):
As the individual ideal of Truth, Christ Jesus came to rebuke rabbinical error and all sin, sickness, and death, — to point out the way of Truth and Life.
And later on p. 94, referring to the Master’s thought:
The effect of his Mind was always to heal and to save…
Many years ago, when I was relatively new to studying Christian Science, an experienced Christian Scientist told me that the act of engaging in criticism was in fact an admission to ourselves that we had failed to see the Christ in another individual. Sobering words to say the least! It was what I needed to hear at that time and something that I find I need to remind myself of to make sure that I’m using spiritual discernment rather than personal criticism to safely navigate the waters and shoals of daily life.
So, in the midst of what seems to be an atmosphere of incessant criticism and the temptation to criticize—because that’s what it surely is—I’ve found it really helpful to pull back, to be quiet, to use my God-endowed spiritual discernment and listen to what the “still small voice” is revealing about what is actually true and right. It always reminds me to recognize that I—we—are all really planted in the realm of Spirit—in the kingdom of God. And it always uplifts and blesses.