The hope of a righteous God
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
One of the more striking features of the Psalms is the fact that it is so often God’s righteousness that comforts the Psalmist. In an enormous array of situations, David and the other poet/songwriters who penned the Psalms turn from their distress and are comforted – but not by the things we might suppose. I find that I tend to look at the kindness and mercy of God when I am struggling. His compassion, his tender heart, and his love are attributes that easily lend themselves to our cultural bent.
Yet when David faced trials (as when he was facing accusations from someone he had thought was friendly toward him), it was often God’s righteousness he called on.
As I have chewed on this reality through the day, a couple things have become clear. First, I do not spend much time reflecting on the righteousness of God as grounds for my comfort or hope, and I should. David provides a good model to imitate here. When we encounter hostility or persecution – especially for those of us in ministry – we have the promise of God’s correction or vindication to fall back on. This is David’s pattern in the Psalm: he calls on God to act righteously toward David if he wronged someone at peace with him, and then calls on God to rise up against his enemies if David has been wronged. That’s a foreign concept to many of us, but perhaps only because we have little experience of suffering for the gospel. For those who do suffer for the gospel, the promise of God’s righteous vindication is very obviously good news. For those of us who do not often suffer, the promise that God will righteously correct us is good news, too.
Second, given the centrality of the righteousness of God throughout Scripture, this pattern in the Psalms really shouldn’t be a surprise. It is not an overstatement1 to say that God’s vindication of his own righteousness is one of the dominant themes of Scripture – one of the hinges on which everything else turns. It is because of God’s righteousness that we are saved at all, not only from earthly trials, but from our damnation. Paul makes this clear in Romans 3: Christ died so that God can be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. If the narrative of Scripture is the story of God’s redemption of his people, it is thus necessarily also the story of his vindication of his own righteousness.
We would not want a God who made nothing of sin – who let envy and gossip and slander and greed slide, to say nothing of rape or murder – any more than we would want a judge who just shrugs at every misdemeanor or felony. Such a being would not be good or worthy of worship; he would not be righteous. Nor would we find good a God without mercy and love – he, too, would be unrighteous. But God is righteous, and to show himself righteous he both graciously forgives sins and pays the penalty for those sins.
Because he is righteous, and vindicated his righteousness in graciously showing us his mercy, we are saved. More than that, Jesus became our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), and now… Now, we are the very righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hallelujah.
- It would be an overstatement to claim this is the only or even the most important theme in Scripture. But it is clearly one of the central themes, and many others are closely connected to it. ↩