What You Can Learn From the Most Unfair Criticism

Unfair criticism feels like a weapon someone is using against you. But what if the Lord is using it to sanctify your soul?

Unfair criticism can feel like someone vandalised a picture of you and posted it publicly.

When it comes from someone you love or trust, it can feel like being poisoned by your favourite meal. You expect a beautiful aftertaste, but your stomach turns inside out (Ps. 55:12-14).

Godly criticism is like oxygen to the soul. There is no way to learn or grow without feedback.

But unfair criticism can feel like sleeping under a tree in the middle of the night. It feels like you are hearing more lies than truth; breathing in more carbon dioxide than oxygen.

Godly criticism comes actively, directly, and humbly. It is one of the most loving, courageous things someone can do for you (2 Sam. 12:7, 13, Gal. 2:11, Heb. 3:12-13).

Unfair criticism sometimes comes aggressively. It feels like someone is proclaiming conclusions about you without offering you any reasons that led to those conclusions, let alone the invisible assumptions they are making without justifying any of them (Ps. 70:3, Prov. 11:19).

Other times unfair criticism comes indirectly, passive-aggressively. It sounds like a compliment but feels like an insult, like, “Hey! You managed to make it on time today. Well done!”

It can be confusing and frustrating when people speak with their actions more than their words. A cold shoulder replaces warm fellowship, silence replaces conversation, absence replaces presence, and distance replaces a sense of nearness (Ps. 41:9-10).

I remember when someone gave me criticism that felt unfair and harsh. They rebuked me but I felt rejected. It poisoned my mind, troubled my soul, clouded my judgment, and weakened my heart.

I kept replaying the conversation in my mind. With each repetition, the truth was slipping away and my imagination was filling up the empty spaces.

Such meditations are futile. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were disappearing one by one. What begins as a clear picture turns into an unrecognisable one, too far from reality to be helpful to anyone.

Eventually, I turned to a friend and confided in him. He listened patiently, empathised with me, and comforted me with encouraging words. I felt better until I returned to my vomit, like a dog (Prov. 26:11).

I called him once more and grumbled like a modern-day Israelite in an urban wilderness. He listened patiently once more. Then he said something that felt too simple to be true but was actually so simple it had to be true.

“Maybe they can see something you missed,” he said.

I felt like a gymnast on a balancing beam about to fall off until a decisive move helped me regain balance. It was the right word at the right time.

“Maybe they saw something I missed”

I kept popping this spiritual pill until it began to reverse the poisoning and engineer healing.

Even if they said it wrongly, could they be right? Perhaps they magnified their criticism. But what if they saw something minuscule to magnify in the first place?

What if it was a virus, preparing to master my soul? Could it be what they intended for harm, God intended for good? In his sovereign grace, what if he was using their imperfect eyes to open my stubborn ones? (Matt. 7:3-5, Gen. 4:7, Gen. 50:20, 2 Sam. 16:11-12)

Even a broken mirror reflects reality. It is limited in what it can show you but it can only reflect what is actually there. Even junk food has some nutrition. You cannot live on it but you cannot die from it either.

Finally, I went to the Lord and told him I wanted to receive the rebuke. I asked him to sift the truth from its imitations, purify my heart, give me clarity on how to change my ways, and help me show due kindness to the person who spoke to me.

Unfair criticism is the devil’s playground. He is the father of lies. Amateurs tell lies. But our adversary is not an amateur. The devil has earned his title by manipulating the truth. He does not simply lie. He corrupts the truth, masterfully (John 8:44, Eph. 6:11-12, 2 Cor. 11:14).

The unwise way to respond to unfair criticism is to play into the hands of the deceiver. It is to meditate on the lies that corrupt or conceal the truth.

But the godly and wise way to overcome unfair criticism is to turn to the face of our Father. It is to rely on him to discern the truth that the devil is manipulating—to rescue it, face it, and enjoy its purifying benefits.

Rebuke only feels like rejection when you desire the approval of people more than you enjoy any approval from God. But it feels like a gift when your heart is rooted and established in the love of Christ (John 12:43, Eph. 3:17-19).

The gospel is the power of God that shields your heart from the fear of rejection and fills it with the desire to love the truth and hate any sinful ways in you (Ps. 51:1-4).

Then the troubled mind turns into a peaceful one, the weak heart turns into a healthy one, and the weary soul turns into a rejoicing one (Ps. 32:1-2).