Indignant? Who, me?
Indignation is a go-to outlet for many of us today. We’re often being invited by news or social media to react to each other in a self-righteous way. Perceived offences seem like real opportunities for righteous indignation—especially when we feel we have good cause to be cross. But is that ever a truly healing and beneficial response? And if not, then how can thoughtful, prayerful people express their righteous concerns and be advocates for justice in our world—without being indignant?
That small phrase, “righteous indignation,” caught my attention in a recent newspaper article. Hmm. Had I been harboring that feeling? I looked up dictionary definitions of indignation and found that they include “feeling or showing anger or annoyance against what is perceived as unfair treatment,” and that synonyms are words such as resentment, affront, displeasure. To say we’re “displeased” at something could seem to be an acceptably mild reaction. But the definition and synonyms I found had uncovered that this seemingly inoffensive term was from the same family as anger and resentment, and I didn’t want to harbor those feelings.
This was a nudge from God, divine Love, to dig deeper in prayer. I wanted to lean on God to be shown how to remove these thoughts from my thinking and experience more consistently. This wasn’t about learning to ignore unacceptable behavior. I wanted to see more clearly than before the actual spiritual nature of each of us as God’s child, made in His image.
I found through my prayer and my study of the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on Christian Science that righteousness is an attribute, or spiritual quality, of God—and that indignation, whether in a mild or more aggressive form, isn’t an attribute of a loving, all-knowing God.
Biblical leaders often turned to God first and humbly listened.
In her main work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy gives what seemed to me startling but helpful guidance: “The one Mind, God, contains no mortal opinions,” and “In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless” (pp. 399 and 341). This meant to me that righteousness, as an expression of God’s nature, cannot include mortal opinions and prejudices that lead to self-justification or indignation.
The Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings provide clear guidance about how we can remove self-justification as an excuse for expressing hatred or anger. But then the question remains, Isn’t there any way people can express their deep unease at behaviors or actions that they feel may harm their local or global communities?
I’ve found that issues of the day in biblical times were effectively solved not by relying on human reactionary opinion but by appealing to divine justice and righteousness. Many prophets and Jewish leaders in the Hebrew Bible were led by God to speak out firmly and clearly against injustices and wrong practices. And they did not mince their words!
The prophet Micah, for example, spoke out against the violent dispossession of families of their homes and fields by the ruling elites (see Micah 2:1, 2). And Micah’s understanding of God’s righteous government led him to foresee that future peaceable habitation together and a sense of restorative justice were possible. He also highlights the spiritual approach that opens the way for God-impelled progress: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (6:8). He describes the time when people would return to worshiping God in true sincerity, saying, “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it” (4:4).
But before Micah spoke out, the Bible account says, “the word of the Lord” came to him (1:1). I’ve also found other biblical accounts of leaders, both men and women, turning to God first and humbly listening before they spoke out or took positive action. They were letting God’s mercy and wisdom guide their thoughts and actions regarding how to make a case for needed corrections with love. This patient listening for spiritual inspiration before acting is something we can all cultivate. In reality, the motives and impulses given to us by God are naturally spiritual and pure.
When our response proceeds from God’s guidance, it will express wisdom, fairness, and integrity.
Jesus fully demonstrated the spiritual nature God has given to us all. He was moved by God in everything he said and did, as the Gospel accounts show. Providing the perfect example for how to prayerfully approach these situations, he counseled, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). He firmly rebuked synagogue leaders’ self-righteousness, and even chastised his disciples on occasion. But he backed this up with love—with a deep, spiritual love and understanding of God’s justice and wisdom, and with what he knew of everyone’s inherent ability to reflect these attributes.
Science and Health states, “The attributes of God are justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, and so on” (p. 465). As God is all-powerful and ever present, the law of divine justice and wisdom must be in operation within God’s creation at all times and in all places. So it is natural for us to turn to this divine source of prevailing goodness to guide us in protesting against what is harmful or unjust and needing adjustment. This is a helpful guide for me when I feel stirred by seeming injustices. Letting true righteousness rather than outrage guide us can bring more lasting, truly beneficial results.
I’ve learned, then, that when I’m tempted to express indignation (and all its sneaky little friends, such as anger and resentment) and think—maybe a little self-righteously—that I have a good reason for doing so, that’s the time for me to stop and turn to God.
Taking a moment to pause and quietly listen for God’s direction turns my thought away from mortal opinion and resentment and orients it toward God. And then I hear the voice of divine Truth firmly and gently leading me to either express my viewpoint in a wiser and kinder way or remain silent.
There is an appropriate way and moment to express our righteous concerns and protests when we see injustices or harmful actions. When our response proceeds from God’s guidance, it will express wisdom, fairness, and integrity. And this kind of response will help bring lasting, healing solutions to complex worldwide problems.