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The Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil

By August 30, 20113 Comments

On NPR this week I heard the following, not-so-encouraging quote from the author of a book on humiliation:

“Humiliation is the inevitable outcome of all writing.”

I particularly like his use of the words “inevitable” and “all,” in case I had some hope of escaping humiliation myself. Thanks, guy!

(I want to quickly add here that the book on Humiliation sounded VERY interesting and we Christians might learn a thing or two from it!)

Of course, I didn’t need to hear it on NPR to know this truth. As I have shared before on this blog, writing is a skin-thickening experience. People feel free to comment as though you are not a real person with feelings. Once you write something in public, you’re fair game.

With the topic of humiliation in view, I want to mention one final highlight from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Although I concluded my summary of the Summit last week, there is a final message from the conference that God keeps bringing to my mind. As a writer whose “inevitable outcome” is humiliation, this idea is especially helpful for processing criticism and dealing with difficult people.

Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist and best-selling author who led a session titled “The Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil.” These labels signify the three categories of people we are likely to encounter at work or at church, especially when serving in the capacity of leader. Dr. Cloud went on to say that you can distinguish these three types by the way they handle criticism:

The Wise: Wise people embrace criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow. These people welcome feedback and they welcome truth. See Proverbs 9:9 and 12:15.

The Foolish: Foolish people hate criticism. They hide from it by diverting blame or making excuses. They minimize the problem, respond in anger, and cause division. They do not grow from criticism and they do not adjust to feedback. See Proverbs 1:7, 22; 15:5; and 18:2.

The Evil: The evil respond to criticism by going after the critic and/or her organization. They have destruction in their hearts and they seek to ruin. Like the Enemy, who comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), they try to take you down.

This distinction is awfully humbling when I think about my own reception of criticism. Too often I fall into the foolish category, which is a lot more serious than the term itself implies. A fool is not annoying but harmless, like a gnat that keeps swarming your face. On the contrary, Scripture has rather harsh words for the foolish. Our foolishness can have severe consequences.

However foolishness is not to be confused with evil. The intent to destroy is the mark of an evildoer. Whereas Christians are to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22), the fruit of an evildoer is ruin. The wise seeks redemption and reconciliation whereas the evildoer promotes death and destruction. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20, you will know these wolves by their handiwork.

What is tricky about evildoers is that they often believe they are on the side of God. They believe their cause is righteous as they help prune the church of bad leaders or ministries. And while I agree that some Christian preachers and ministries need to be quieted, the way in which we go about this work is revealing. For instance, I publicly disagreed with Mark Driscoll last month, but I also encountered individuals who have devoted entire websites to attacking Driscoll and taking him down. Without presuming my own correctness in handling the disagreement, there is a qualitative difference between my approach and the latter.

Christianity permits disagreement. In fact, the diversity of the Body of Christ almost guarantees it. It is how we respond to disagreement that defines us. Are we seeking to honor the other and restore them, or slander and destroy them?

Those questions hold me accountable as I receive criticism and give criticism. I want to do so as one who is wise, rather than one who is foolish or wicked. Dr. Cloud’s explanation also gives me a healthy perspective for processing the critics themselves. When people brush off my ideas with mean-hearted words and make no attempt to listen, I recognize that as the fruit of foolishness. And if people go after my character, attack me as a person, or try to destroy my credibility, that is the fruit of wickedness.

This perspective not only helps me to cope with criticism in a productive way, but it also guides my prayers. I pray for the foolish to grow in wisdom, and I pray for the evil to be restored. I also pray for myself. My flesh is just as prone to foolishness and evil. Only by God’s  grace do I have any hope of wisdom and goodness.


  • Excellent post!!! I’m passing it on!

  • Tim says:

    Excellent article, Sharon. Just last week someone half my age here at work accused me of acting out of a false sense of infallibility. I assured him I was quite aware of my fallibilities, as I encountered them daily. Then I ran across this on the Cripplegate blog (8/31) and it put the whole issue into a nice little package for me:

    George Whitfield once got a letter from a man who took issue with his ministry. The man complained about everything from his sermon content to his personal style. He assailed his integrity and questioned his calling. When George Whitfield replied here is what he said, “If you knew about me what I know about me, you would write longer letters.”


    P.S. I don’t mean to be critical – YIPES! 😉 – but isn’t “faithfulness” missing from your reference to Galatians 6?

    P.P.S. I really really liked your instructive and very irenic article on the effeminacy tweet over at her.meneutics. Isn’t a guy who does something called “tweeting” the last person who should comment on another guy’s so-called effeminate manners? I mean, “tweeting” does sound kind of precious and all.

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