by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Criticism. Is there a day that goes by in which any of us doesn’t feel its sting or dish it out — or witness another either being hurt or abusing others with this purposeless weapon?

The irony about criticism is that by definition it has the potential to be a healing and positive force for growth and progress. Instead, it is often misused and so never reaches its potential.

Criticism is supposed to be an offering of a valid and well-reasoned opinion or a new and fresh perspective, with the intention of helping and correcting. As such, an individual who is critical in this way actually takes a peaceful and benevolent approach and is non-authoritarian and diplomatic. But all too often, people criticize with hostility and insult, then demand and oppose without sound judgment or analysis — and usually with an uninformed interpretation of the facts.

I’ve given out my fair share of this kind of criticism and no doubt have been as guilty as another of being rash and unreasonable. But lately I’ve been challenging myself to consider my words and actions more wisely. This is mostly because I’ve been thinking about the man who many refer to as the best man who ever walked this earth and who is also the most criticized man to have ever lived — Christ Jesus.

I often wonder how Jesus would be received if he arrived on the human scene today, and I can’t help but conclude that his treatment would be no different than if it was 2,000 years ago. Would he really be any more understood? He most certainly would break down so-called holy traditions, ignore societal codes and offer ideas that are “out of the box,” compared to accepted and long-believed norms and opinions. No, I fear he would still be criticized, maligned and persecuted.

What do we hope to accomplish by our criticism? Can we learn to turn criticism into a force that heals rather than one that hurts? How do we do that?

Jesus gives us instruction when he once rebuked his disciples who were angered because a village they had entered wasn’t welcoming them, and they wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them.” Jesus told his brethren, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” And he also reminded them, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:51-56).

Surely this means that we, too, must examine our hearts and be sure our words and actions have the same purpose as that of our Master — to save and not destroy.

And there’s no time like the present. One of Britain’s most notable physical scientists, Martin Rees, in his book “Our Final Hour,” states that the very survival of the human race is dependent on actions we take in the current century. Somehow I can’t help but think we must change the manner of our criticizing ways if humanity is to reach its potential of harmonious coexistence.

We can do this. Having the same loving Father, we can insist on seeing each other the way God sees each of us — gentle, selfless, patient, teachable, fair-minded — never hard, harsh, self-willed, unreasonable, stubborn. We should contend that we are created in God’s image and likeness, imbibe all those qualities of goodness and then act accordingly. We must affirm that humanity will ultimately yield to its spiritual nature. Certainly, conflict, divisiveness and opposition are not part of God’s plan for His creation!

We can turn our discussions and viewpoints from blame and finger-pointing to prayerful and hopeful ideas and suggestions. The world needs the constructive force of the spiritually, discerning critic. I suspect that to be spiritually discerning, we must pause and seek holy wisdom before we speak and act. We must always ask ourselves, “Will our words and actions help, save and heal?” As we quiet weary, disappointed, disturbed or frightened thoughts and listen for God’s angel messages, we will receive the divine inspiration we seek and hope for and most assuredly will receive good advice.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to heal.”

May we all have a heart to heal ourselves of our destructive, criticizing ways and bring to an angry and troubled world the peace and hope that saves and heals.