Critical thinking skills used to be a basic building block of education. Students were taught to analyze facts in order to form a sound judgement. I recall my teachers would orchestrate hypothetical examples in order to exercise us in this skill. I thrived at critical thinking drills. It was probably what shaped my interest in entering the field of law. I dabbled in philosophy but found all the different approaches daunting, preferring more generalized analysis to the esoteric. The irony in that even the Law is esoteric. Sadly, this skill seems to be dying out in modern education. Analysis is frowned upon and seen as rebellious in light of what the god of Science has to say. Popular opinion is now held as fact and judgement is no longer about choosing sides but rather bringing a condemning sentence. Children today will be hard pressed to form any kind of analysis much less sound judgement.
In my youth, I was often criticized for being critical of what I was told. I preferred the laboring process of searching out truth to the simplicity of taking someone’s word for it. Though this distinction sometimes caused a delay in my obedience, I knew enough never to allow it to keep me from honoring the authorities around me and doing what I was told. But as I grew older and grew out of some of those authorities, I began to realize how that critical life skill could become a stumbling block for many, where as, it was meant to be a virtue in prudence.
How many people do you know who have something negative to say about everything?
Criticism is not a license for complaint.
How many people do you know who are always outraged at something to the point their blood boils and all civility escapes them?
As a writer, I’m trained to be critical of speech. So when someone suddenly begins to be incapable of civil speech, it’s a flag to me. This person is beyond critical thinking, which means any response requires something beyond civility. You fight fire with Fire. Sometimes, the only response is to be a complete ass.
Yes, you read that right. Let me demonstrate what I mean with the following real-life example.
Patrick Madrid, a radio host on Relevant Radio, tells the story of his encounter with a critical woman with Church wounds following a conference where he was a speaker. He ran into her in the hallway during a break and made the mistake of offering a ‘Hello’. She unleashed her aggressive criticism of the Catholic Church on him like a demon pleading for Jesus to let him go to the pigs. Everything from ‘you worship Mary’ to ‘religious legalism’ and ‘the Pope is not God’ vomited out of her mouth. He found himself silent, waiting for her to take a breath. But at the moment her criticism ceased, he found himself suddenly empty of all the refutation points he’d so often used against similar critics. Instead he felt an ‘intuition’ he says he’s certain was not God but could’ve been his Guardian Angel telling him to just listen to her. After a long pause, she jabbed at him, ‘What? You have nothing to say?’ Patrick says, the words flowed off his tongue in such an uncharacteristic way that he knew then it was the Holy Spirit at work. He recalled how she often had mentioned she used to be Catholic, so he asked her again, ‘You said you were once Catholic? So, tell me what happened?’ It was then they sat down at a nearby table and the critical woman transformed into a little girl sobbing over her experiences growing up in a ‘strict’ Catholic home, where her family said daily rosaries and participated in the sacraments on a daily basis, but she had found herself in a compromising situation with her boyfriend. Knowing that her parents would be adamantly opposed to her having an abortion and that she could not tell any of her siblings about her predicament, she had her boyfriend drive her to a parish two towns away seeking advice from the parish priest. But when she sought out the priest, he told her she felt, rather flippantly, that she probably got a false positive and to take the test again in a few days. He then proceeded to leave quickly stating he had much to do that afternoon. In her desperation and disappointment, she succumbed to her boyfriend’s pressure to have the abortion. For the next 20 years she turned her back on the Catholic Church and accepted friends invites to attend their non-Catholic communities, where she said she felt more accepted. The woman took a minute to compose herself, having laid bear the source of her wound and hardly able to speak. Again with an air of expectancy, the woman looked at Patrick for words. And again, Patrick blurted out the only thought that came to him, “You need to go to confession.” The woman’s eyes flared and the demon again began to rage as she told him, ‘thanks for nothing!’ Patrick says he kicked himself afterwards. Wondering why he hadn’t said something more edifying or even merciful. Six weeks went by, when he got an email from the woman out of the blue. She had tracked him down and her first words were, ‘Thank you.’ It turned out the woman had left the conference in a furry. Every time she thought of Patrick’s words she would get more enraged and think about his words even more. Finally she realized, it was the Lord speaking through Patrick to her and He was asking her to trust Him. She found herself at confession for the first time in 20 years. This time the priest was compassionate and wise and she said he helped her to begin to practice her faith again.
If we look at Patrick’s story with a little critical thinking, we can glean a few truths.
First, hypercritical people, no matter how well presented they appear, are almost always hiding a wound. When they find that wound pressed, it usually unleashes a demonic manifestation like rage or confusion and an inability to respond with civility. Wounded people, wound people. in our quarter on Inner Healing for the Encounter School of Ministry, we teach students how to recognize these triggers and participate with the Holy Spirit in healing the source of the wound.
Second, Healed people, heal people. Patrick didn’t know it at first, but his response to just listen was a grace of the Holy Spirit. Rather than respond from a source of pride by refuting her points and dismissing her feelings, he chose to be receptive to the call of the Spirit in that moment. He chose to participate with God’s grace. He consented to partner with the Holy Spirit and the work of healing he wanted to do in that woman’s life, right then and there. This is no small feat. Our participation with Grace is essential to the working out of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). Patrick not only participates in the healing grace for the woman but is also challenged by his own transformation in grace to abandon ways that are so characteristically himself.
Third, and finally, Patrick acknowledges his final words to the woman that caused himself so much angst, ‘you need to go to confession’, are actually the workings of the Spirit. This realization frees himself from the condemning lie of performance that threatens to keep us in shame that somehow our failure is the reason for another’s loss of salvation. Jesus makes it clear that salvation belongs to him. When we realize the work of the Holy Spirit is sometimes as simple as being like Balaam’s donkey, we can let go of the burden that was never ours to carry. What matters is not so much what is said but that we were willing and receptive to let it be said through us. Learning how to empty ourselves of prideful desires and ego in order to surrender fully to the work of Grace is an important work of salvation in the life of a Believer. The woman experienced healing because Patrick set himself aside long enough to let the Spirit speak through him.
I don’t know about you, but it’s truths like these that help me see all the more how critical thinking is a necessary skill or better still, prudence is a necessary virtue to ascend in holiness. If we only stay on the surface, never diving deeper into the meaning and intention behind a thing, then we are like those who hear the parables of Christ and walk away still oblivious to the mysteries of the Kingdom.
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Critical Thinking is critical.
I want to encourage you the next time you are dealing with a hypercritical person, remember, they’re criticism is like an open wound. Take a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to come into your own heart and fill it with His compassion for them. Tell Him you are willing to be His donkey. Your willingness to make an ass of yourself for the sake of the Kingdom just may be the one thing that helps Jesus save souls from eternal wounding in hell.
And before you get all critical of me calling you an ass, remember it was also a donkey that had the privilege of carrying Jesus into his Kingdom. You can too.