WE NEED CORRECTION
Written by Doug Ponder on April 20, 2014
Coping with Correction
It’s no secret that we hate correction. There are fewer words that make our blood boil than to hear, “You’re wrong!”, no matter who is saying them to us.
But what if we are wrong? How should we handle our need for correction?
One way we deal our hatred for correction is by trying to remove all errors from our lives. This is exactly what those who struggle with perfectionism are doing, hoping that all their revision, all their practicing, all their time and effort, will remove any trace of error, thus making it impossible for someone to correct them—since there will be nothing that needs to be corrected.
That approach never works, of course, because try as we may we can’t be perfect. It is impossible to remove all errors from our lives, and those who try to do so live with the crushing weigh of reaching for a goal that they want so desperately but never actually attain.
The other way we try to deal with our hatred for correction is by removing the possibility for others to tell us that we are wrong. This method of dealing with correction now beings at an early age. For example, in most public schools today children no longer receive graded assignments until they are nearly ten years old! Instead, they receive non-ABCDF letters that stand for things like, “Extraordinary, Satisfactory” and so forth. Just a couple decades ago my siblings and I were receiving grades as well as conduct reports, full of words like “Unsatisfactory” and “Needs Improvement.” Back then we were wrong about some things, and those teachers had the freedom to tell us. But now there is no wrong, just “Satisfactory” versus “Extraordinary.”
This approach now even extends into adulthood. I recently heard of a local business who does not permit people to criticize—even constructively!—the work of their colleagues. Instead of saying, “Your information was wrong,” or simply, “You need to change this,” they are required to use special words that mask the need for correction. They must say, “I like this [something positive about the work], and I wish this [something they “wish” had been different]. They can’t even say “but.” There is no, “I like this, but I wish that…” There is only, “I like, and I wish…”
A Better Way to Live
What is going on? In our society of bruised and fragile egos, we have chosen to ignore our need for correction instead of embracing it. We have chosen to silence those who can correct our faults, instead of listening to them. To use a couple of metaphors: we change the labels on the bottles and think that changes our need for the medicine that’s inside, or like ostriches, we stick our heads in the sand and think that there is no threat because we cannot see it!
There is a better way to live, a more honest way to live, that admits our deep need for correction and embraces those who have our best interests at heart as they seek to help us change.
Consider the meaning of Jesus’ words when he says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
Again Jesus says, “I came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
And once more, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus’ words show us that he came for people who are messed up and deeply in need of correction—those who are not well, those who lost and confused, those who are bankrupt, those who are blind physically and spiritually, those who are enslaved by sin, those who are oppressed by the world, and all those who live without hope.
This is good news, since we are all messed up, every one of us. Jesus came for broken people, and we can rejoice that he delights in healing what is broken and correcting what is out of joint.
The Grace of Correction
Practically speaking, this means we must not stick our fingers in our ears when others come to us speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Instead, when people come correcting us and warning us, God calls us to receive them as brothers and sisters who are building us up, not tearing us down (Col. 1:28; 3:16).
Our tendency to shut others up, ignore them, or find fault with them—as if discovering a flaw in the messenger somehow lessens our own guilt or need for correction!—are all ways we try to dodge the correcting grace of God in our lives. But why would we do this? God says that he corrects us because he loves us (Heb. 12:7-11). He knows that we are blind fools rushing headlong into danger and death, so he gives us eyes to see our and ears to hear our need for him. More than this, through the gospel God gives us the power to accept criticism and correction—from anyone—without despair or hatred.
The gospel tells us that we are made by God and for God. He loves us, and he cares for us in every way. He provides for us, and he disciplines us. He cares for us like a father cares for his children, for that is what we are. God our Father has adopted as his children through the work of Jesus, who has forgiven us, made us clean, and reunited us with him.
None of that changes when we realize our never-ending need for correction. We are still God’s sons and daughters; he still loves us; we are still forgiven; we are still clean in Jesus. What does change, however, is that our hearts are softened to receiving the correction that comes from God (including correction from God that comes through the voices of his other children) because we know God’s heart. He is like the surgeon who cuts our bodies in order to heal them, or like the nurse who pricks us with a needle in order to prevent much more serious diseases. God corrects us because he loves us, and we are fools to ignore or downplay our need for his correction.
We do not become healthy by ignoring our need for the doctor, but by admitting we are sick and going to him so that he may tell us what is wrong and begin to make it right.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.