Getting to Know God Meditations: 36. God who is Righteous (1)
Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Job 4:7 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?
Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
Psa 9:8 He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.
Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;
Righteousness? The words ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ don’t come up in regular conversation today! They are, I suspect, words we consign to Bible use only, which is a shame because it is foundational to understanding God and His purposes for us. Righteousness is a word linked to justice and of course justice is about rightness and fairness when it comes to behaviour. Righteousness is simply right thinking, right speech and right behaviour.
God is Righteous: Mostly, in Christian circles, we tend to talk about righteousness as something required of us. The prophets, such as Amos above in our starter verses, were constantly challenging the people to live righteous lives. Righteousness for them meant adhering to the Law of Moses. But the thing about righteousness is that it starts in the character of God, He is righteous. As one theologian has put it, “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.”
Creation & Righteousness: You might be wondering why the subject of righteousness is appearing here immediately after the study on God being the Creator. The answer comes when we ask the question, how can we know ‘what is right’ in that definition above, and the answer to that question is twofold. Part of it is in the second half of that definition above, but the other half is in the fact of Creation.
We take Creation, or what we often refer to as ‘Nature’, for granted. Much of the time we only take note of it in nature programmes (which, with the wonders of modern photography, have become incredibly good) or when it goes wrong – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Someone might ask, is this how God made this world, so it goes wrong and kills people? The answer is no, before the Fall it was not like that but the effect of Sin meant that mankind’s activity released spiritual powers (is the best way to describe it perhaps) or maybe removed God’s sustaining power in the way it had been before, and that meant that natural forces were released that cause these upsets. The Bible is not very specific on it although there are occasional hints. What is clear is that before the Fall, everything about Creation was very good (see Gen 1:25,31).
Now put aside for a moment these aberrations of the natural world (things that by and large with some more thought, we could quite easily cope with, considering modern construction techniques and the use of early warning technology) and consider the 95% of the rest of our experience with this world. There are certain characteristics about it that are worth noting:
- First, it is mostly orderly and predictable.
- Second, it is for our benefit whether that refers to the amazing range of food and drink available to us, or even into the pleasurable ways that we find to enjoy this world – skiing, sailing, swimming, diving, flying etc. etc. There are endless ways we find to enjoy this world because it is orderly and predictable. It works well!
- Third, there are clearly ways to ‘use’ this world that are both pleasurable and beneficial, but there are also ways to misuse this world that are harmful and destructive. I often give the example of eating, an experience that can be very pleasurable, but when taken in excess causes obesity which in turn has other various health harming and even life-threatening effects.
- Fourth, there are therefore, clearly boundaries of wise behaviour but the effects of Sin – that self-centred godless propensity that we all have – so often means that we see the negative effects that come from unwisely using this world, but that should not detract from this wonderful ‘machine’ (that includes us) that God has given us, that is good!
A fresh view of Righteousness: The character of God, we have observed in previous studies, includes love, goodness, knowing everything, and knowing how everything works best (wisdom). The character of this word reflects all those attributes. Righteousness goes back to ‘what is right’, and that goes back to how God has designed the world before the Fall and before the effects of the Fall, and that again goes back to His character.
Righteousness through the Law: When He gave Israel the Law through Moses, that law simply reflected His design criteria, and therefore pointed Israel in the right direction of how to live, how to behave, how to relate to one another (and outsiders) and how to relate to Him, as an embryonic, agrarian nation standing out from the rest of the world and remaining distinct from their pagan neighbours. All those things are reflected in it.
Righteousness through Christ: We today (as believers) living in a different world, are not limited to one nation or culture, are mostly not agriculture focused, and now live in the light of the salvation God offers us through Jesus Christ. Righteousness for us is, as the apostle Paul put it, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,” (Rom 1:17) “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3 :22) so, “faith is credited as righteousness,” (Rom 4:5) so, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24) i.e. we are declared righteous by God when we simply believe in Jesus as our Saviour who died for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of that. That is faith and faith is what God uses as the measure that decrees us righteous – living in accord with His will as revealed in and through Jesus.
And So: God always doing what is right – whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners – is the foundation upon which we can live in total peace and harmony with God, being able to utterly trust Him for all good things. Why, someone might ask, does God not deal with all evil and immediately punish all wrong-doers? Well to take the second part first, if He did that He would be punishing all of us all of the time. We have cited Ezekiel’s declarations on this again and again: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32 – also 18:23 & 33:11) God’s objective is not to destroy us but to save us (see also 2 Pet 3:9 on God’s ‘delaying tactics’!)
But what about justice? Will unrepentant sinners get away with the evil they commit under God’s benign reign? No, because often there is an accounting later in life which is seen, but there is always an accounting after death which is not seen from this perspective. One way or another, justice WILL be done and (in eternity) seen to be done. God is righteous and that means everything He does is right, as we said above, whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners. We would do well to understand these things, learn from them, and heed them. Amen.