In out last post and conversation we saw together that when God calls someone “righteous” it is easy for us to mishear what is being said. By our ear, it may sound as if God is putting his stamp of approval on that person’s moral and ethical character. In fact, at the moment of being declared righteous by God, the issue is not a matter of personal character, but of relationship with God.
In “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, author Kenneth Bailey notes that the Hebrew and Greek words translated “righteous” in the Bible are packed with many facets of meaning and implications. As evidence he observes that “The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” article on this family of words extends for fifty-one densely packed pages.”
Then he points out that, “The key to it all is that [the Hebrew word] does not refer to an absolute ideal ethical norm but is out and out a term denoting a relationship.”
With this basic thought in mind, Bailey goes on to show that “righteousness”, like a diamond, is a many faceted idea in the Bible. At some lengths he develops the following four implications:
1. In the Bible righteousness often refers to God’s mighty acts in history to save.
He quotes another author who says, “From the earliest times onwards Israel celebrated [their God] as the one who bestowed on his people the all-embracing gift of his righteousness.”
2. Righteousness has to do with being declared to be in right relationship with God. He quotes Rudolf Bultmann who writes: ‘It (righteousness) does not mean the ethical quality of a person. It does not mean any quality at all, but a relationship.”
At this point this author goes on to show what some were pointing out in our last conversation. Every relationship has implications of conduct.
3. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the mark of those who want to reflect their gift of relationship with God. So Bailey adds, “The unspeakable gracious gift of acceptance in the presence of God requires the faithful to respond.” In this sense, “The righteous person is the one who acts justly”… not just by “giving every man his due” but, by “showing mercy and compassion to the outcast, the oppressed, the weak, the orphan and the widow.”
In other words, how God treats us in our need is the model for how we are to treat others.
The result is what he calls a fourth facet of righteousness:
4. Righteousness is also connected to peace. This appears in Isaiah 32, which says that the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of peace, quietness and trust forever.
Bailey notes that where there is this kind of righteousness and peace, even our animals benefit (Isaiah 32:17-18; Isaiah 32:20)
In this light maybe we will recall the proverb that says, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10
While this has gotten a bit long, am wondering whether you see in these four perspectives of “righteousness” the kind of goodness that–when embraced– cannot help but change the way we look at ourselves and others?