Proverbs 16:2 tells us that “All a person’s ways seem pure to them…”

People usually do what they think is right.  They do not think of themselves as being the bad guys.  Like the Nazis in series 1, episode 1 (first aired September 14, 2006) of “That Mitchell and Webb Look,” a comedy sketch show on the BBC, they are slow to recognize reality and shocked when they finally have to ask themselves, “are we the baddies?”

When I told an anti-Semite that he was filled with hate, he was outraged at the accusation; he couldn’t recognize that his statements against Jewish people were hate-filled.  He couldn’t comprehend how he was living in contradiction with the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

How could that be?  How could someone ever be so clueless?

Well, what motivates a lynch mob?  Anger, obviously.  A desire for vengeance.  But why? 

Because the members of the lynch mob perceive that a wrong has been committed that needs to be righted. That justice needs to be served. Their action springs from “righteous indignation.”

When a certain general referenced a drone strike as “righteous” it wasn’t because he believed that killing an innocent aid worker and seven children was a good thing.  He thought the strike was good because he thought he was getting back at the ones responsible for killing 13 Americans.

A desire for justice is motivated by a love for those who have suffered wrong. The lynch mob seeks to protect the vulnerable from an oppressor. Their hatred for their opponents is a result of their love for the victims and their love of justice and righteousness.  Righteous indignation is a consequence of love, but far too often it’s “love in all the wrong places.”

Too often justice isn’t.

This is why God tells us “vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  This is why the prophet Isaiah wrote that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags”.  We may think we’re doing what is right.  We may think we are doing a good thing.  All too often, even our best efforts simply suck.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Our best ideas, too often, turn out to be “here, hold my beer” stories.

Stephen dies a martyr because of “righteous indignation” on the part of the religious establishment.  They thought they were doing God a favor.  They were certain they were being “righteous.”

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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