Before You Post...

Lane Keister
Criticism is usually given much more freely on the internet than in person. It is one of the chief reasons why the internet seems to generate more heat than light. It is so easy to hit that "post" button when you don't have to face that person's reaction. In some ways, the internet can reveal our hearts better than personal interactions. This is why it is very important that we meditate on how to give and receive criticism. Proverbs tells us that the way we receive criticism marks us either as foolish or wise people.

Proverbs 9:7-12 occurs in a context of the choice between Lady Wisdom (verses 1-6) and Lady Folly (verses 13-18). The passage itself forms an envelope with chapter 1, especially since the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom is located in both places (1:7 and 9:10). The key verse for my purpose here is verse 8 (in the ESV): "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you."

The first (and rather obvious) point is that the wise one responds to criticism in exactly the opposite way to the fool. The wise man loves the one who reproves him. The foolish person responds with hatred and scorn for the messenger. The contrast is explained in the enveloping verses. The scornful person's response is laid out in more detail in verse 7. Abuse and injury are the results that the reprover can expect from trying to correct the scornful. Verse 9, however, shows that greater wisdom and learning will be the result from reproving the wise man.

This shows us the underlying attitude towards correction and rebuke that the foolish and the wise have. The foolish person believes that he cannot improve anywhere, and that he is perfect just the way he is. He has enough experience in the ways of God, or he has enough letters after his name, in order to be someone of importance. That means he has arrived. The wise man, however, realizes that he is so far from God's standard that he always has room for improvement, no matter how mature he is in the Christian faith, how old he is, or how educated he is.

How is this possible? What is the logic here? The answer is in verse 10. If a person fears God, he will not fear man. Fear of God and fear of man is a zero-sum game. They cannot co-exist peacefully. The wrong reaction to criticism stems from the fear of man. Read that last sentence again. So, if a person fears God, he will react quite differently to criticism, because he is not trying to look good in front of men, but is instead seeking to please his God. It will be a perception of iron sharpening iron, rather than personal attacks. The person who fears God does not wrap up his identity in how other people think of him. Instead, his personal worth is entirely dependent on what God thinks of him. The wise man would rather look foolish to the whole world, rather than be foolish in God's eyes.

Our reaction to criticism, therefore, shows us the degree of pride and arrogance in our hearts, especially when the criticism has a mixture of truth and error in it, as is often the case. Do we focus on the incorrect part of the criticism, or do we seek for what is true in the criticism? If we are honest, we will have to admit that criticism is not our favorite way of gaining wisdom. We would rather get it from a book that isn't directly attacking us, or from someone who always phrases things in a positive way. Here, however, the proverb is plain: we are fools to hate the messenger who criticizes us, especially if that criticism has any validity whatsoever. Instead, we should thank the messenger for pointing out our blind spots.

When reviled, Jesus did not revile in turn. With Jesus, of course, all criticism is wide of the mark. He was actually perfect. There is no valid criticism of Him whatsoever. So, did Jesus blow up when people reviled Him? He was as a lamb silent before its shearers. This kind of thinking is quite foreign to most of us. If even the slightest criticism comes our way, we start World War III, even if the criticism is true! But if a calm reaction is Christ's response to wrongful criticism, then how much more positively should we receive criticism that has any truth in it?

So, our reaction to criticism should be much more humble. When criticism comes our way, we should analyze the criticism to see if there be anything true in it. If there is, we should be glad of that, and take it to heart. Anything that is not true should simply roll off our backs. We do not need to defend ourselves from every attack that comes our way.

Furthermore, we do not need to correct everyone on the internet who is wrong. A little application of the golden rule would greatly improve internet culture. Ask yourself if you would want to receive the criticism you are about to dish out. Ask yourself if you are writing in anger (don't do that unless you are absolutely convinced that it is a righteous anger, and even then you might want to ask someone you trust if it is so) or from love. If you are angry, you should be extremely hesitant to write anything. Ask yourself if you would say the same thing to that person if they were standing right in front of you. Use some imagination and seek to discern how the other person will perceive what you write. Pray about what you write. It is not a bad idea to pray over every comment and post that you write. Stick to the issue at hand, and do not attack the person. Insults immediately close people's ears.

Be wise about criticism, and not foolish. One has to think about these things in advance. There is no time to develop wisdom on the spot, in the middle of a cat fight. Think these things through in advance. Learn from your mistakes, and grow.