Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness…
Does anyone else ever get stuck on that last line? I have a hard time conceiving of righteousness as an “all-surpassing gift.” I know that Jesus made it possible for us to become righteous when He died on the cross, and I’m grateful, because we would otherwise never have been able to live with God. I know that righteousness is a great gift. But it seems to me to be just one of the many gifts God has given us. And frankly, it doesn’t seem like the best one.
I’ve spent a lot of time this semester reading about people and situations that are severely lacking in righteousness – I’ve read about incest, abuse, rape, war, disease, unkindness, torture and all kinds of other horrors. In most of these stories, the authorities have abandoned righteousness altogether, and sometimes the characters act against their own moral standards in life-altering ways. I’ve read some terribly tragic narratives this semester. So many of these books have broken my heart with their bleakness – and yet, in many (though not all) of them, seeds of hope, love and community somehow take root and grow, hanging on fiercely, against literally all odds. I am becoming a person who values brokenness, both in literature and life, for the humble growth it can bring. I tend to shy away from people who seem too “righteous,” for fear that they aren’t authentic. People who’ve never been broken can’t understand the struggles I face. They can’t understand the brokenness that pervades this world. For this reason I wonder if some magic helping of “righteousness” won’t hurt the mission of Christianity more than it helps.
My life for the past two years has been about fighting to hang on despite a lack of righteousness, in events and attitudes and relationships. It seems to me that God’s mercy toward us is an infinitely greater gift than His righteousness, and that His love tops even that. I know that His love grants us mercy and righteousness, among so many other things; it makes possible a righteousness that we truly cannot earn. But I value His love far more than the things it grants to me – just as I value relationships with the important people in my life far more than the material things they give me. Does that make me a person who places too small a value on righteousness? Or does it mean that I’ve been living too long in a very broken world? In a context (or contexts) where righteousness is so often absent (even in the church-saturated culture I live in), does it naturally follow that righteousness comes to be devalued because of its absence? Do we come to see other things as more important because they are what make up for the lack of righteousness? Or is it just that I struggle with the concept of “righteousness” as holier-than-thou piety? Perhaps true righteousness is something so much more than legalistic purity, and I’m just tripping over my own limited perception of what it can be. Or perhaps humility is the key – purity of heart must be tempered by a healthy dose of humility, or it does no good to anyone.