A vibrant discussion about righteousness with my wise 21-year-old son, led to this blog. We were talking about all the righteousness in the world these days and how it stems from ego dominance, and the inability of folks to be wrong or to see things from a broader lens of compassion and acceptance.
We got to discussing what is righteousness anyway, sensing the modern day use of this word is probably not what God had in mind. My son stated simply he thought righteousness meant getting right with himself. I really liked this because, from my yogic perspective when we get right with ourselves, we become more self-aware which generally leads to more compassionate holding of the ‘other’ rather than approaching all others as the enemy or the self as something that must be constantly defended.
I told my son I thought righteousness meant getting right with God. Which to me relates to getting right with ourselves. You see, as a Christian, I feel self-awareness is at least in part about remembering who we are, children of God. Consider this verse from Isaiah, The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.”- Isaiah 32:17. Swap in “getting right with God” in this verse instead of righteousness and see how the meaning warms. Assurance of God’s love and faithfulness. I would put on the coat of righteousness for that!
The word righteousness appears in the bible 540 times! However, as my son and I suspected the modern definition of righteousness appears to miss the mark of what God intended. Today we define righteousness as the quality of being morally right or justifiable. This is often expressed anytime and anywhere a specific group feels they are 100% right leaving anyone who disagrees on the outside or even villainized or threatened. Unfortunately, this also can happen in religious sects or denominations- you are with us, or you are against us.
Perhaps a bit closer to the biblical meaning of righteousness might be acting in accord with divine or moral law. In Jesus’s times righteousness was more about a heart connection to God than getting in good graces with him by following the rules. If fact this is what Jesus preached. To be ‘in the righteousness of God” which was often stated in the Old Testament meant to be connected with God, to seek relationship with Him and to be anchored in his aliveness.
Some would say true righteousness begins with believing God is who he says he is, implying if we begin to put our trust in Jesus rather than ourselves, we become more righteous in our relationship with God. Hence, righteousness is a gift from God to all of us, a God given quality given to us out of love, so if we believe in Jesus, we get right with the Lord.
One of the most well-known verses from the Bible about righteousness is one of the beatitudes. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled- Matthew 5:6. I feel what Jesus is alluding to here is we must stay hungry spiritually. I do not believe Jesus is talking about doing everything right and following moral law to the tee, I sense he is talking more about being aware of your hunger or desire to have a relationship with God. This implies that we much keep coming back to God again and again to be fed!
Richard Rohr a Franciscan priest and prolific writer speaks on this point suggesting we keep in a state of dissatisfaction. If we stay hungry, we can continue to be part of the solution. I love this! God’s power in our hands to heal our world. Simply by getting right with ourselves and God we are making a difference, sharing our biblical version of righteousness, compassion, and love.
Some wisdom teachers suggest that yearning or hungering for God is a healthy spiritual sign. To me this is good news! We do not need to get it all right or get our ducks in a row to come to God. We only have to put our worldly problems and to do lists aside for a little while and connect with our Father. Some may say while we are yearning for him, he is also yearning for us! More good news even if we do not always feel his presence or get the answers we seek he is there, the heart of God a little more bright because we are seeking him.
I confess, I have a hopeful heart. A hopeful heart that believes when I get right with myself and my God it starts a small vibration out into the world. This small vibration may someday influence others to get right with themselves and their God. Like casting a stone in the water and watching the ripples expand. I believe this is what the world needs, less righteous indignation and more people being called to step into the light, step into relationship with a loving God. If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations. When there is order in the nations, there will be peace in the world. – Sathya Sai Baba.