Proverbs 17:15, NIV, says, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the LORD detests them both.”

I recently came across this verse as part of my daily reading plan, and the Lord won’t stop reminding me that if I glibly rush to judgment and call an innocent person guilty or a guilty person innocent, I am doing something that the He detests.

If I hear of an incident where a police officer uses what might be called “excessive force” in apprehending or putting down a suspect, and I immediately cry out, “All cops are good — I’m sure that young man had it coming to him,” or, conversely, “Just what we should suspect —another instance of a racist cop who loves violence,” I could be guilty of committing an act that is detestable to God.

Do I know the young man being roughly manhandled was doing something rebellious or criminal that excused the behavior of the officer I am defending? If not, I am in danger of acquitting a man who is guilty of what he’s being accused of.

Or, do I know the cop is racist and that race was the driving force behind his actions? If not, I am in danger of condemning an innocent man who did his job fairly and properly. Yes, sometimes we acquit the guilty or condemn the innocent because we speak on an issue about which we do not know all relevant facts.

Perhaps worse are instances in which we do know the facts, but we ignore them or slant them so that we can speak in support of someone we like, even when his acts are deplorable or we can speak in condemnation of someone we don’t like, even when his acts are praiseworthy.

When President Trump speaks, and what he says is crude or flat out wrong, one group defends his character, rationalizes his language and acquits him of his unChrist-like speech. On the other hand, when what he says is good, another group twists his words, makes assumptions and condemns him for no good cause. Acquitting the guilty or condemning the innocent are both detestable to God.

Worst of all are the cases in which a person knowingly, blatantly and purposefully defends the guilty or condemns the innocent. I’m thinking specifically about cases in which when a person shares a “fact” on Facebook or makes a comment in discussion that is proven to be “fake news,” yet the person sticks by the posts or comments anyway.

Maybe it’s a conservative posting something an unsubstantiated challenge to Obama’s citizenship or a feminist offering intentionally misleading abortion statistics or a Christian saying something that unfairly stereotypes all Muslims or a gun control advocate sharing easily-refuted statistics about school shootings? I’m thinking specifically about instances in which a person KNOWS a man is guilty, yet praises him as innocent anyway, or know a man is innocent, yet judges him as guilty anyway. The Bible says that the Lord detests such things.

God has been speaking to me though this simple proverb all week, keeping me in check, reminding me that He hates it when I say that a guilty athlete must be innocent of an accusation simply because I want to believe he's innocent or that an innocent politician must be lying about his past simply because that best fits the narrative that I want to believe or that a person’s lifestyle is acceptable as long as "no one is hurt" because I don't want to offend anyone or that that group of people must not love Jesus because that’s what I've been taught about their denomination.

God hates it when I defend a vulgar comment because, “Even though I wouldn’t say it that way, it’s still true,” or when I condemn a righteous act because, “That’s nice, but he’s a jerk, so I’m sure he did it with an ulterior motive.” God hates it when I rush to the defense of a family member or friend or my favorite politician when what that person has done or said is clearly in violation with God’s holy standard, and He hates it when I rush to speak slander of a neighbor or co-worker or my least-favorite politician when what that person has done or said is actually good, noble and virtuous.

Folks, there are times to call a heinous act sin and a righteous act good, but we must be cautious when doing so. “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the LORD detests them both.”

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Mark Wingfield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grottoes, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Saturdays.

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