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I was preparing last week for a group meeting at my home and ran across these three words used in the context of marriage during my study time. During the group meeting I saw that the members were awakened to the connection between these words, so I decided to write a blog.
The three Cs represent the three ways we interact with one another in relationships when dealing with circumstances, situations or events we perceive as negative, hurtful or harmful to us or the relationship.
In looking at these three I am going to use a simple example where the husband in a marriage has not taken out the trash as he said he would.
Complaint – this is a statement that a situation is unacceptable or unsatisfactory. It is a grievance aired about a specific identifiable issue. In our example most of us would be supportive if a wife complained like this:
- Honey, you didn’t get the trash put out, can you take care of it?
This is a perfectly reasonable and justifiable request.
Next, Criticism – this is also a statement about a situation that is unacceptable or unsatisfactory. However, if differs from a complaint because it takes a more global approach in that although it might have been precipitated by a specific situation, it actually addresses a wider issue. In our taking out the trash example it might sound like either of these two:
- Honey, you didn’t put the trash out again, you’re always forgetting.
- How come you can never remember to put the trash out?
While there may be an element of truth in a criticism, there is almost always an overstatement or error of some kind in the statement. Notice the words “never” and “always” being used in our examples. It is doubtful whether this poor husband “always” forgets or “never” remembers to put the trash out.
It is when we get into criticism mode that we start to run into trouble in relationships; here is why:
- Often criticisms have an unjust or untruthful component to them, which makes them lies. They may not be major lies, but they are still lies, and lies have a tendency to destroy relationships over time through destroyed trust.
- The internal response of a person being criticized is often the birth or reactivation of resentment toward the critical person, and also can often result in the planting of bitterness too.
- People who receive this complaint can sometimes personalize it. Meaning that they take the criticism as a comment on their personhood. While this is not the fault of the criticizer, it is a common reaction of a person whose actions are criticized.
Because of these kinds of factors the long term effect of criticism in a relationship is emotional disconnection leading to reduced intimacy. Think about this in the context of our simple example. What husband is going to want to listen about his trash can forgetfulness from a critical wife over and over again? And, let’s also acknowledge that if a person criticizes over one issue, they are likely to be critical over other issues too. This is because criticism is sourced in a character defect that comes out in the form of a behavior that is most likely automated or unconscious. The character defect here is the need for the criticizer to implicitly state that they act more virtuously than their victim, it is called self-righteousness. They do this because it makes them feel better about themselves to a certain extent.
However, not all negative sounding criticism is problematical. If a criticism is truthful and verifiable it can be considered as justifiable. Using our “taking out the trash” example, the wife could say this:
- When the trash doesn’t get taken out, it always stinks the place up before the next pick up.
So while criticism is most often negative and unreasonable, it can also be negative, truthful and helpful. We just have to be careful about how and what we say.
Finally, Condemnation – again, this is a statement about a situation that is unacceptable or unsatisfactory. However, it differs from a complaint and a criticism in that it takes the specific situation, and then globalizes and personalizes it. In our taking out the trash example it might look something like these two:
- You’ve forgotten the trash again, you’re worthless!
- What kind of man are you? You can’t even take out the trash!
Even though the precipitating situation might have been minor, the condemner uses it to attack the personhood of the irresponsible individual. Similar to criticism, condemnation is sourced in a character defect. In this case the character defect is personal pride, which is explained by this statement:
- I am better than you.
This is a lie that a condemner believes about themselves and there can be many psychological reasons for it. The one most commonly found is that the judgmental person actually has low self-esteem, and has taken to condemning others to try to place them in less worthy positions, thereby artificially elevating themselves. This is a kind of dark logic because it means that one person has to tear another down to feel better about their personal worth. It is decidedly unchristian.
Now let’s look at the scriptural position on the three Cs.
Complaints – The Bible is full of complaints. Here is one that Jesus spoke when He addressed the church in Laodicea:
Rev 3:17 -For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. ESV
This is a clear complaint direct from the mouth of God to a specific church. From this simple example, and the many others found in the pages of the Bible, we can safely assume that a complaint that is accurate is acceptable behavior from a Christian perspective.
The Bible is also full of criticisms; let’s see something else Jesus said when He was speaking about the religious leaders of His time:
Mt 23:5-7 – They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. ESV
This criticism is specific, it is global but it is not personal as it directed at behavior only. Notice though that it is truthful and verifiable. Here are a couple of verses/instructions to consider in the context of criticism:
Eph 4:15 – Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. ESV
Eph 4:25 – Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. ESV
Condemnation is a very interesting thing in the Bible. When one reads it there appears to be much condemnation, for example:
Rom 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ESV
But, as a person peruses the scriptures something stands out. What appears to be condemnation, even from God, is actually only criticism. God only addresses individuals and groups in the context of what they have done, and does not denigrate their personhood. I believe this is because He is faithful to the understanding that all people are made in His image by Him, so that to condemn a human is to condemn Himself, which He cannot do.
In the end, the place I wanted to come to is revealed by these verses:
Rom 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ESV
Heb 9:27 – Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. ESV
In the first verse we see that God never condemns a Christ-follower. In the second we see that condemnation is reserved for all, except Christ-followers, after their physical death.
My take then is this. Christians should never condemn any person, believer or not, because God has reserved that action for Himself. And, Christians should take special care when they criticize fellow believers, just in case they go too far and slip into judgment; God doesn’t judge us, so why would we?
Complaints are okay, just don’t overdo them. Criticisms are okay too, as long as they are completely accurate. Condemnation is never acceptable.
My final point in this blog is to alert us to how we actually behave in the use of the three Cs.
Our problem lies in the invisible forces that guide us inside our soul. As we speak criticisms to those around us we can unknowingly develop a creeping negativity toward them. If we are not ultra-careful we will start to slip from criticizing the activity of a person to criticizing the person themselves, which is condemnation.
I rest my case.