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Loving the critic

A Christian Science perspective

Have you ever encountered someone who appears to think that you can’t do anything right? Or maybe you know someone who seems to find fault with a particular aspect of your behavior, your appearance, or just the way you are.

All too often, unmerited criticism of another can seem to be a hobby, or practically a full-time job, for some people. This can be hurtful and challenging, often because it seems to come from someone with whom we have, or hope to have, a positive relationship – maybe a boss, a spouse, a friend, or even a son or daughter.

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Do the teachings of Christian Science offer a way to heal destructive criticism?

Obviously there are times when most of us need to be told that we’re not on the right track, need improvement, or even that we’re way out of line. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, agreed that the right kind of criticism can be helpful. But destructive criticism is another matter. In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she wrote: “During many years the author has been most grateful for merited rebuke. The wrong lies in unmerited censure, – in the falsehood which does no one any good” (p. 9).

Like many of us, I’ve had times when I’ve been confronted with criticism that seemed unfair and harmful. I’ve felt there was little I could do to change a situation that seemed beyond my control, and I’ve wondered what was motivating the one criticizing me.

But as a student of Christian Science, I’ve found that a negative, can’t-do attitude obscures healing possibilities. A clue to why this is true is found in Mrs. Eddy’s statement quoted above. In that passage she provided an important indication regarding healing solutions when she described “unmerited censure” as “the falsehood which does no one any good.”

A falsehood? Hmm – what does that mean?

That destructive criticism is a falsehood about the person being criticized is often pretty apparent. Rarely is criticism that’s motivated by envy or hate reasonable or accurate. But perhaps more important, such criticism is also a falsehood about the person doing the criticizing.

Further study of Christian Science explains why this is so. God made man in the image of Himself, divine Love (see Gen. 1:26, I John 4:16). Actually, the loving child of God could never be prompted by jealousy, fear, or anger to see his or her brothers and sisters in anything less than the light of love. Therefore any appearance of a person indulging in destructive criticism must be a falsehood about God’s creation.

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To understand and hold to this fact can bring healing. As Mrs. Eddy wrote: “Holding the right idea of man in my mind, I can improve my own, and other people’s individuality, health, and morals; whereas, the opposite image of man, a sinner, kept constantly in mind, can no more improve health or morals, than holding in thought the form of a boa-constrictor can aid an artist in painting a landscape” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” (p. 62).

This lesson is illustrated in the book of Genesis (Chaps. 37-45) in the story of Joseph. Because Joseph was his father’s favored son, his older brothers’ critical, envious attitude toward him turned to hate, and they arranged to leave Joseph in a pit, eventually selling him into slavery. But Joseph didn’t respond with revenge, and his predicament led to circumstances that ultimately helped him, his fellow countrymen, and even the brothers themselves. Joseph’s response to the criticism and hate directed at him proved the destructive attitudes to be false and powerless. This response healed the entire situation.

In my own experience, I’m learning to refuse to accept willfulness and a critical nature as part of the identity of a person. And I’m realizing that replacing those negative traits with the knowledge that only God’s loving idea is present can help bring healing and peace, whether the critical individual is a family member, friend, or professional colleague. Once an individual has gained mental dominion over criticism toward him or her, it rarely continues.

What would the world be like if there were less destructive criticism? Much of what causes people to fear others would disappear. There would be less to obstruct, obscure, or thwart individual expression. The healing of destructive criticism would make our earth more heavenly.

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