God’s Righteousness and Ours
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.” – Psalm 111:2-3
The concept of “righteousness” was important to Ancient Israel’s self-understanding of their covenant with God. The Hebrew word usually translated as righteousness could also mean integrity, justice, prosperity or wholeness. Righteousness was both an attribute belonging to God, and the order of things that God put into place for the well-being of Israel.
There were two contesting schools of thought about Israel’s special covenant with God. There were those who believed that God’s choosing of Israel was unconditional and could never be revoked.
The other opinion, associated with the prophets, was that Israel’s election came with the responsibility to manifest God’s righteousness in the life of their society.
And the prophets’ test for national righteousness was how it treated the most vulnerable of its citizens. In patriarchal Israel the most vulnerable were widows and orphans, who had no male to give them status or protect them. Other vulnerable people were foreign migrants, who had no claim to the land. And finally, as in every society, the poor were vulnerable. Whenever this collection of “the last, the least and the lost” were being mistreated it called into question the integrity and identity of national life.
This idea of societal righteousness was important to our Puritan ancestors, and, though it has never been fully realized, remains in the DNA of American identity. For example Dr. King powerfully employed this Biblical notion in his plea to our national conscience during the struggle for civil rights.
A pressing question for our time is this: can the soul of a nation be considered sound if it mistreats its most vulnerable members?
You are righteous, O God. Pour out your righteousness on our troubled land, that our national soul may be healed.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.