Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
who forsake your law.
Psalm 119:53 ESV
Indignation is anger that specifically arises over unfair treatment or, we might say, over inequality or injustice being committed. Given that justice and equality are chief topics at present, it should not surprise us also to find much indignation within public discourse, nor should its presence necessarily be written off as a bad thing in itself. The vision of a society where no arguments ever happen and all of life is spent roasting marshmallows over a campfire singing “kumbaya” is a reality that will not be achieved in this life. Does not Proverbs 27:17 say that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”? Blades can only be sharpened by removing bits of steel with another steel until an edge is formed. A society without any friction whatsoever is as useful (and as dangerous) as a bunch of dull knives. This is true even of the church, where rebukes and discipline are at times necessary, just as even Paul once rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14).
No, indignation itself is not a problem, but we may certainly be indignant over the wrong things. The last few passages in our study of Mark may serve as a helpful guide since indignation has made a number of appearances. Mark gives us two explicit examples of improper indignation. First, the indignation of the ten disciples toward James and John was a replay of their previous argument over which of them was the greatest, and Jesus responded to both moments by teaching that they still did not understand how to be great within God’s kingdom. We will also find in Mark 14:4 that some of the disciples were indignant at the woman who anointed Jesus with bottle of perfume that could have been sold for almost a year’s wages. They justified their indignation by saying that the money could have been given to the poor, but Jesus placed worship of Him above even ministering to the poor.
Yet positive examples are also given to us by Jesus Himself. First, He was indignant with His disciples when they hindered children from being brought to Him, but He was also indignant at the money-changers who obscured worship within the temple with their greed.
The verse of our meditation gives us the difference between Jesus’ righteous indignation and the petty and misplaced indignation of His disciples. Like the disciples, our indignation is often rooted in our own hunger to be esteemed by others, yet righteous indignation comes from a zealous love of God’s law, which is the only proper standard of justice. Indeed, God’s law is the revelation of His will, so the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer serve as a litmus test for the righteousness of our indignation. Let us ask ourselves in the heat of our anger against injustice: Am I indignant because God’s name is not being hallowed, because His kingdom is not being valued, and because His will is not being done, or is it my own name, kingdom, and will that are being transgressed? May we have a fiery indignation for God’s law, but may we “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32) especially when we ourselves are reproached.