Righteous Indignation

The phrase ‘righteous indignation,’ which has been around for quite some time, is meant to convey the idea of getting a bit agitated, even upset, with certain acts of unrighteousness. It really has to do with looking at the evil in the world from the eyes of one who is supremely righteous – namely God.

God is clearly upset with evil, and thus his indignation with it is always righteous, as he is always righteous. The issue remains however as to whether believers are capable of, or should be involved with, righteous indignation.

The big problem of course is that none of us are righteous. The biblical doctrine is that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). But salvation, from the biblical point of view, is all about a divine transaction: we sinners give our sins to Christ, who suffered the punishment we deserve for those sins, and we in turn are given the very righteousness of Christ.

Paul puts it this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is an incomprehensible yet glorious exchange: all we offer Christ is our brokenness, our sin, our unrighteousness; in exchange, the very righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.

This is the good news of the gospel. But having said that, believers are called to reflect God’s heartbeat in the world. The things that bother God should bother us. The things that break God’s heart should break our hearts. Those things which bring joy to God should bring joy to us as well.

So there is a sense in which we can have genuine righteous indignation. Sure, we are often indignant about all kinds of things, with little or no righteousness behind it. But it is possible to share God’s concern about unrighteousness. The Old Testament prophets are a classic case in point of believers sharing in, and reflecting to the world, God’s heart about things.

So believers can and should exhibit righteous indignation. Indeed, because all people are made in God’s image, even non-believers can, to an extent, experience this. Sure, the Fall and sin mars all of our moral perspectives, but because of common grace, and because we still retain the image of God, all people, whether redeemed or not, can experience some degree of God’s perspective on what happens in our world.

Thus non-believers can often make almost prophetic-like observations and remarks. Non-believers can be as concerned about certain aspects of evil or corruption in the world as believers. I say all this simply to preface what I now want to talk about: the writing of one Melbourne-based commentator.

Andrew Bolt, columnist for the Herald Sun, is not a believer. But he often has a keen eye and an attuned heart for much of the idiocy and moral madness that is so representative of modern culture. He often exposes, and expresses concerns about, the follies and injustices of the day as good as any believer can.

A recent column of his could in many ways have been penned by a believer. It concerns some of the moral silliness that so characterises life in the West. His June 15, 2007 column seems to be a good example of righteous indignation. He offers plenty of things to get indignant about.

For example, he cites the recent remarks by the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, in which she engaged in a particularly appalling example of moral equivalence, by arguing that Australian Prime Minister John Howard is just as evil as Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.

Or consider a “United Nations Environment Program manual, which insisted the real problem with Zimbabwe was not that it was ground so deep in the dirt by its brutal leader that it was short of food, work and even power. No, it was simply growing too fast. ‘Zimbabwe is presently entering a stage of rapid industrialisation and motorisation,’ the UNEP sighed.”

Or what about Latrobe University Professor Robert Manne when he describes “the ‘enchanted world’ of Aborigines before whites came: ‘(Anthropologists have) discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.’ But still I worry: How could our top intellectual so praise a society in which the strong ruled the weak, infanticide was common, death rates by warfare horrific, life expectancy low and bashing of women – as measured by the fractured skulls since found – astonishingly high?”

The list goes on: “The head of Melbourne University Press, formed to publish academic works of the highest quality, now wants to publish the memoirs of al-Qaida recruit and dropout David Hicks. The Sydney Peace Prize is given to a writer who tells us to join the ‘Iraqi resistance’ – now blowing up women and children – because their ‘battle is our battle’. The Australian Catholic University gives an honorary PhD to Age cartoonist Michael Leunig, who likens Israel to Auschwitz, paints George Bush as the devil, asks us to pray for Osama bin Laden and praises ‘the music you can hear playing in your toes at night’.”

“Marrickville Council, in inner Sydney, decides this month to twin, not with any town in Israel, but with the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, now under the control of Hamas extremists. On it goes: the artists who take pride in displeasing; the Age columnist who yesterday declared, ‘I’d be happy with a benevolent socialist dictatorship’; the prominent Leftists, led by the ABC’s Phillip Adams, who invite Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez to come here to ‘inspire’ us to be just that; the academics who want to try George Bush, not David Hicks; the immigrants who want Australia to be more like the countries they fled; the discrimination police who entrap Christian pastors, but leave hate-preaching imams well alone; and . . .”

It seems Andrew Bolt has a clear case of righteous indignation here. Things bother him. Things upset him. Such things should upset all of us. But too often many believers just don’t care, just couldn’t be bothered. Thus Jesus once said that if his disciples did not speak, then the very stones would cry out (Luke 19:40). If believers will not get involved, be concerned, and speak out on the many worrying issues of life, then God may well raise up non-believers to get the job done.


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5 Replies to “Righteous Indignation”

  1. Bill, I read something (and posted on it) in the last week or two which discusses the brain wiring of a Conservative vs. that of a non-Conservative. It talked about how the part of the brain which controls morality in a Conservative was far more complex and broken down into sub-compartments which (presumably) enable the person to perceive things (such as subjecting society to a socialist dictatorship or abortion) differently to the way others would see it. Apparently the morality center of a typical non-Conservative is broken down into two areas: harm and fairness.
    Some people, as you say, are particularly attuned to what is morally sound and can’t be silent about that. I would agree with your assessment of Andrew Bolt. (I thought he was a Christian by the way). Another person I’m thinking of, one of the strongest fighters for Christianity and yet who describes himself as an agnostic, is Jon Jay Ray (prolific blogger around the international blogosphere). I know of lots of others. Thank God there are fighters like these out there. Though not Christians now, I believe that many of them are marked and could convert and become the Christian ‘special service agents’ as things continue to heat up in the future. Fighters like these despise the erosion of rights and freedoms and don’t submit easily.
    Dee Graf

  2. Thanks again Bill.

    Righteous indignation is clearly found in scripture. For example in Exodus 32, when Moses finds out about the calf that the Israelites worshipped. Or how about Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 where he criticises a stiff-necked people. We are not perfect but when someone is right with God and they have the Holy Spirit in them they can feel God’s anger in situations. God gets angry time and time again in the Bible. There are two types of anger, righteous and unrighteous. We need to pray that we can discern the difference between the two.

    Ezekiel was told by God in Ezekiel 3 that if he didn’t warn people when God prompted him to that he would be punished. We need to know when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to speak and not be afraid to speak out when that happens.

    It is good that some non-Christians are speaking out on issues. It takes away credibility from the idea purported by many atheists that our views are only the views of Christians.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  3. Opponents of racism should speak against it when it’s practised by black governments, as well as by white ones.

    Robert Mugabe is a racist, and would have removed long ago by the “international community” if Zimbabwe exported oil.

    Michael Watts

  4. Michael Watts :

    Opponents of racism should speak against it when it’s practised by black governments, as well as by white ones.

    Indeed so, otherwise they are not in reality opponents of racism at all. It is actually racist to expect lower standards from black governments than white ones, but so many of our alleged anti-racists do just that.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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