Why Criticism?

Why do I feel tempted to criticize? What is my real motive, the supposed benefit that my subconscious mind thinks will come to me as a result of finding fault in others? There has to be a payback in there somewhere or it would not seem so appealing. We spend much time talking about the reasons why we should not have this attitude, but maybe we are not addressing enough the underlying motives, not exposing the deeper issues that keep this habit so alive and well.

I have been thinking about this occasionally for some time now but it is not yet clear to me. But clues seem to surface occasionally. It must have something to do with making myself look better in comparison to others, propping up my own reputation by making other people's mistakes more look more obvious.

I am not saying that the underlying reasons should make sense; I am only saying I want to ferret out what they might be so I can get a better look at them. If that last reason is true it is easily counteracted by the fact that I have learned many times that what I see in others is almost always a problem I have myself. That is so true that I can rely on that formula to give me clues to find what some of my blind spots are if I am willing.

But what about the many times when I hear some convicting point in a sermon and the first thing that comes to mind is someone else that should hear and benefit from this point? Isn't that pretty much the same thing as fault-finding and criticism? I can catch myself many times and turn my attention inward and ask God to apply this to myself which I believe is what He wants me to do. But what I want to get a better handle on is why it first comes up as me wanting to apply it to someone else first. Why does my mind work that way so naturally? And don't just give me the cliché that it is selfishness. I know that obviously. But there are reasons used by selfishness for what it does and when those reasons can be exposed for the fallacies that they always are it is easier to disarm their effectiveness a great deal when they are forced into the open.

And along the same lines, I have been wondering recently why I feel a sense of agitation many times when I am discussing problems in the church or in the lives of other believers. Or maybe when I am trying to make some spiritual point I often find a subtle spirit of agitation creeping into my voice without my even detecting it at first. Where is that coming from? What is the hidden foundation, the internal atmosphere that feeds this kind of emotional background that makes it so natural to have these feelings as my default instead of really caring about others and applying spiritual alerts to myself first?

I have started asking myself these questions in real time whenever I catch myself experiencing some of these impulses. Instead of just shutting myself down with guilt feelings I am asking myself what logic lies behind these feelings. They do not exist in a vacuum with no rhyme or reason behind them. Even if their reasons can easily be seen as fraudulent after being exposed, they still must have some weight, some validity or my mind and heart would not even produce them in the first place. But they may have been ignored, repressed or afraid to be seen for so long that it is hard to catch them out into the open without some planned fishing activities on my part along with some help supernaturally.

After asking myself this very question soon after I got up this morning I was somewhat surprised to run across a statement a few minutes later that addressed this issue directly and gave me some strong indicators that it is God prompting me to think about this. This quotation is speaking of what will go through the mind of Satan, previously known as Lucifer, when he is faced with the reality of God's ultimate revelation of love in the day of judgment which results in Satan experiencing hell himself.

Memory recalls the home of his innocence and purity, the peace and content that were his until he indulged in murmuring against God, and envy of Christ. His accusations, his rebellion, his deceptions to gain the sympathy and support of the angels, his stubborn persistence in making no effort for self-recovery when God would have granted him forgiveness --all come vividly before him....
The aim of the great rebel has ever been to justify himself and to prove the divine government responsible for the rebellion. To this end he has bent all the power of his giant intellect. He has worked deliberately and systematically, and with marvelous success, leading vast multitudes to accept his version of the great controversy which has been so long in progress. (GC 669-670)

This quote has actually given me a great deal of valuable insights as to some of the reasons why I might feel this way many times. I know that these impulses have been trained into my psyche from an early age by Satan and his imps to distort my perception of myself and of the world around me. Whatever it is that is plaguing me in this area is going to be reflective of the very same attitudes that my tempter has honed to the nth degree. So if I appreciate how it distorted his life and the motives that caused him to go down this path I can use that to unmask the logic that motivates me down the same wrong path.

From this passage I see several very useful warnings and concepts.

  • First of all, murmuring is an indulgence. That means that it must involve my choice.

  • Complaining may often be closely associated with envy.

  • This spirit will often involve accusations, rebellion (resistance) and deceptions.

  • These things will be used as ways of trying to solicit sympathy from others.

  • This is a potential way to draw support for myself which on the flip side will draw away support from whomever it is I am badmouthing.

  • When this problem advances it can lead to stubborn persistence and denial that I even have a problem myself.

  • God is faithful to work with me and offer a way to experience forgiveness, but I have to be willing to admit my problem and get real about what is going on inside of me.

  • If I really want to change there is some effort involved on my part to assist God in my recovery.

  • This problem always involves justifying myself and defending my claims and accusations against others and avoidance of exposure by others.

  • There is likely to be the element of blame, always trying to make others look responsible for the issues, problems, character flaws and mistakes. At the same time this spirit always seeks to avoid responsibility for my own flaws, mistakes, character defects etc.

  • I am afraid of what others may think about me if I admit I am wrong because my sense of self-worth is now so dependent on what others think about me and my reputation. If I am not in good relationship with God (which is impossible if I am fault-finding and murmuring), then I am cut off from my only reliable source of real worth and I am certain to feel an emptiness inside as a result.

  • I am going to have to keep stitching together more and more tightly a web of fault-finding, finger-pointing, complaining and criticism to form a view of reality that I have to defend as long as I am unwilling to repent and accept God's version of reality. I will have to blame others for all my problems while avoiding exposure myself and convince others that my version of reality is the correct one. I will seek to get as many people as possible to accept my version of what is going on, hoping that enough believers will make my attempts to hide successful.

That is quite an impressive list of clues for me to digest. I believe this may prove to be very helpful for me to expose my hidden motives whenever I find myself tempted to look down on others, think ill of them or take warnings and admonitions and apply them to others ahead of myself. I know it won't come easy, but I want to cooperate with God to quash this nasty habit that is keeping me immature and largely ineffective in His service.


  1. I too struggle with these issues. I had to chuckle when you mentioned hearing a good point in a sermon, and immediately thinking of someone you know who could benefit from it. I've done this countless times. And though I chuckled, it's not really funny to have these holier-than-thou instincts.

    Murmuring and complaining kept the children of Israel from entering into the Promised Land. I remind myself of this often, though secretly I can't believe that MY murmuring is as serious to God as theirs' were. Talk about self-deception!

    I don't always find that the faults I clearly see in others are ones which flaw my own character. Most often it's more a matter of feeling smug because, though I possess many flaws, at least I'm not guilty of those particular ones.

    It's good that you are contemplating this issue. Any disciple of Christ would do well to do the same on a regular basis, for it's so true that we can't point the finger of blame and expect to enjoy intimacy with Him.


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