This raises some important questions. What if the criticism is unfair? What if the critic is someone who doesn’t have our best interest in mind but instead seems to have it out for us, is not worthy of respect, or is saying things about us that are not true? What if the critic, rather than acting out of interest for our health and flourishing, is acting like a pig?
King David can instruct us here, also, in the way that he responds to an irritating man named Shimei. Shimei dislikes how David is leading the people, throws rocks at David, and hurls insults at him, “cursing him continually.” David, once again having all the power, could simply kill Shimei on the spot, and one of David’s men wants to do just that.
Not long ago, Tim Keller posted a tweet that said, “Even if only 20% is true, we can profit from criticism given by people who are badly motivated or whom we don’t respect.”
Pastor and seminary professor Jack Miller said something similar about certain critiques that he received from detractors— critiques that, in his opinion, were unfair or entirely untrue. Miller professed that whenever somebody would criticize him unfairly or paint a negative caricature of him, he would turn to the person and say, “You don’t know the half of it.” Being aware of the darkness of his own heart enabled him to regard an unfair criticism as charitable compared to the true things about him of which his critics were unaware. As Miller famously concluded, “I am much worse than I think I am.”
The story is told of the evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who, while preaching the gospel to a large crowd, had his own “Shimei” experience. A young, self-assured, know-it-all seminary student in the crowd began to publicly challenge the things that Moody, the veteran evangelist, was saying. This student rudely interrupted him several times and tried to trip him up. Eventually, Moody got fed up with the young man’s rude behavior and snapped at him. The evangelist, widely known as one of the world’s most eloquent communicators, used his gift with words to punish the young man, sharply putting him in his place. Thinking that the young man got what he deserved, the crowd showed their hearty approval of Moody’s response. Then, later in his talk, Moody stopped himself and said in front of them all:
Friends, I have to confess before all of you that at the beginning of my meeting I gave a very foolish answer to my brother down here. I ask God to forgive me, and I ask him to forgive me.
Moody demonstrated true leadership and greatness in that moment. Though guilty of the seemingly lesser sin, he became the first to repent and apologize. He, the one “in power,” valued his character and the young man in front of him more than he valued saving face. Though he could have said nothing and gone home satisfied that he had soundly defeated the young antagonist in their public standoff, he instead humbled himself and publicly apologized.
If Jesus, who never committed even the smallest offense, would humble himself and make himself nothing for our sakes; if Jesus would lose face in order to save face for us; if Jesus would allow himself to be exposed, criticized, despised, and rejected in order to cover our shame and prove his great love for us, then it makes sense that we would want to follow in the footsteps of people like Tim Keller, Jack Miller, Dwight L. Moody, and King David by humbling ourselves when we are exposed for our shortcomings and sins. For although we are “worse than we think we are,” we are also, as Jack Miller also said, “more loved than we ever dared to hope.”
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