The Reflected Glory Of The Critic

This past Sabbath, my local church pastor gave a very intriguing and thought provoking sermon about a subject I think about a fair amount, that of glory [1]. I know that I am not a particularly glorious person by nature, and it is rather obvious that any such glory as we possess is reflected glory from God that we do not deserve on our own merits but are given graciously, as an unmerited reward for godly works through faith. When we look up at the night sky, most of the time, if we live in an area that is not too cloudy, we see that the brightest light in the night sky is the moon. Yet the moon has no light of its own, but rather imperfectly reflects the light of the sun so that even when we cannot see the sun in the sky we may still have enough light so that the sky is not nearly completely dark. We, at our best, are moons that give a world that would otherwise be consigned to darkness the reflected glory of the God so that there might be at least some light in the dark night that we all face in this present evil age. In so doing, we fulfill the doxology of Jude in Jude :24-25: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” At worst, when we fail to reflect the glory of God, we become clouds in the night sky, blocking the light of others while providing no light for others ourselves, which is our very purpose to exist on this earth.

Those who read my blog will know that I am a rather critical person. I am critical about myself, about what I see and hear around me, about the corrupt institutions of my world, about the corrupt authorities that have existed throughout history, about books and music and the other cultural achievements of this age, and about anything else that falls within my attention and concern. I would like to think that I did not place any burdens upon those who were already too heavily burdened by my analytical commentary, and I would hope that I gave praise where praise was due and credit where credit was due. Yet I am all too painfully aware that my instincts are to be critical and it is only a secondary and conscious response to be gentle and understanding with myself and others and not to think too hard or with too much alarm about what I see and experience. We might not tend to think of glory as being connected in any fashion with the critic, but in fact glory and the critic are connected often and profoundly in this world, and we would do well to at least stop and reflect on some of the purposes of criticism so that we may be critical with the right purpose and the right sense of balance and proportion.

When I was a college student, one of my friends dropped out of film criticism (which was a major at the university I attended) because it made him feel deeply depressed to be so critical about the movies he had to see. He wanted to go to movies and enjoy them, but to be an eminent film critic, one often has to be intensely nasty about bad films so that one’s praise for those films which are truly excellent (in one’s not-so-modest judgment) may shine like the stars of the firmament against the darkness to which bad art is consigned. The same is certainly true for reviewers of books and music as well, in that those of us who have high standards of integrity in what we do find it necessary to speak poorly of those works which do not meet a standard of excellence so that our praise at those works which are indeed excellent and noble may be rightly recognized as conferring a recognition of achieving a certain sense of glory. If every work is praised, we are not a critic, but we are rather engaged in mere puffery, fluffing those artists whom we fawn over with flattering words, respected by no one, not even ourselves. To give honor and praise to works and people that are worthy of praise, we must also recognize that there will be much that we read and see that will not be worthy of praise, and there will be even some of it that will be worthy of severe rebuke and condemnation. This may even be true of our own works, and it may be necessary, for the sake of justice, for us to receive rebuke as a reminder that we have fallen short of the glory that we sought, even as we look for encouragement to do better next time.

In many ways, we may judge a critic by their attitude to those things which are noble and good. A worthy critic receives honor by praising that which is worthy of praise, and censuring that which is worthy of blame and condemnation. To be sure, not all critics have a fine moral sense, and many are likely to think that which is good to be boring and passè and appreciate that which is wicked but novel in some way. By seeing what a critic thinks about a given work, we see the moral sense (or lack thereof) of the critic. Some critics have a low bar of praise, and anything meeting that modest standard receive credit. Others are extremely demanding, by which we know that those things which receive praise are truly works of massive accomplishment and considerable achievement. Others are more nuanced in their praise, seeking not only to praise the quality of the work but also to recognize certain contextual elements that are notable, showing kindness as well as justice in their approach, and being willing to grant mercy but also making others aware when that mercy is given. Such critics who are worthy of glory receive that glory because their judgment is recognized as being just and proper. This is no mere idle sentiment. A few years ago, I once had a job where I was given the task of quickly reading and scoring essays from New Jersey high school students, having to average a paper every couple of minutes or so, and having my scores checked against other readers, to make sure that my judgments were accurate and fast, which is not an easy standard to achieve. As it happened, I was both finely attuned to the nuance between the six scoring levels of these essays, and also very quick at what I read. I could tell very quickly, from language use and argument and structure, which papers were at the higher end of achievement (5 or 6), which were mediocre (3 and 4), and which were scarcely worth reading at all (0, for those essays that could not even be scored, 1, or 2). I was good at what I did, and appreciated those rare works of excellence written in conditions of stress and pressure that came my way to score.

A good critic wants to enjoy that which is good. He or she may read or listen to or view a lot of what is fair, and occasionally that which is very poor, and even rarely that which is torture to endure. Yet most people, even the most critical and analytical among us, want to live out what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and anything praiseworthy—mediate on these things.” A critic such as myself may be a bit scathing and harsh when something is poor or misrepresented, or we may even review certain works with a sense of alarm, but we always want to spend our time thinking and reflecting and enjoying what is good, what is noble, and what is beautiful. Life is too short to waste it on things which embitter us, infuriate us, or depress us. Rather, we want to spend our time enjoying the good in life, and in pointing others to what is good, so that what is good may not languish in lonely obscurity, but may be enjoyed and appreciated by others. If we have been shaped and formed to be critics, therefore, let us be good critics, who can point the way for people to reject what is bad and choose what is good or even great. In so doing, we give glory to those whose works are noble and lovely, and also reflect in some nature the glory of God in His righteous but merciful judgment.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Reflected Glory Of The Critic

  1. Pingback: Non-Book Review: Arthurian Animation | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Whose Bible Is It? | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: From The Cross To The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Against The Usurpation Of The Pharisees: Part Two | Edge Induced Cohesion

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