Righteousness and Justice

Meditations on the Psalms

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

David pleads with God to answer his prayer. Before singing about God’s answer, He identifies God’s righteousness, an attribute integral to His eternal character. God is just and righteousness. Not only is God righteous but He is the One who makes the Psalmist righteous. David never says he is righteous in his own right, by his own thinking and deeds, but that God has righteousness placed upon him, covering him. He is the God of my righteousness.

Answer means to hear and respond, to testify verbally by speaking out loud. It is the same word used in Psalm 3. “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4 ESV). To callmeans to cry out, to proclaim, emotionally ask loudly, especially for help. So, the Psalmist seeks God in prayer, loudly and forthrightly, imploring God to respond favorably. He knows God hears and that His response is righteous.

God speaks about righteousness in the Psalms. He first declares a separation of the righteous from the wicked. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5-6 ESV). Those who are righteous are those who do not rebel against Him. They are citizens of His kingdom, who do not follow the ways of the wicked, sinful, scoffers but are identified with the One Blessed Man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Only God will make a sinful person righteous through Christ.

What is righteousness as an attribute and quality of God? The attributes of God are eternal characteristics of His divine being, which cannot be separated from Him, which works in conjunction with all of the other attributes. Righteousness implies there is in place a moral law, followed to the letter. God’s moral law does not reside outside of Himself but is a fundamental part of His eternal being. His creation, those created in His image and those created with an ability to intellectually and emotionally know His moral standard, follow that law. God’s moral law is a true law, a fixed statute or rule that must be followed. Breaking a moral law, unlike a physical or natural law, is possible, but has eternally damning consequences. Those creatures created with the nature of adhering to God’s moral law bend and break themselves when they violate His eternal standard found in His eternal being.

Righteousness is only one side of the coin. On the other side is the word justice. In the Hebrew and Greek, the word used for righteous also mean justice. Though the theological concepts are related and may be viewed as essentially the same, they have slightly differing applications. God is righteous and just, but He is also true and good and holy. His essential attribute of righteousness and justice cannot be divorced from His equally essential attributes of truth and goodness and holiness. God declares a person righteous when they meet, continue to meet, have always met, the just requirements of His moral law.

Righteousness is the measure God uses to evaluate and judge those who adhere and keep His moral law. Those who live according to the moral law of God are declared righteous. Those who rebel against God break His moral law and are declared unrighteous. Then God judges both, separating one from the other by separating those who rebel from Him.

Moses sings about God after leading the people to the border of the Promised Land. God is their immovable and unbreakable foundation because of His divine immutable attributes. “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 ESV). God is just and will do nothing which violates His eternal character. So also, Abraham appeals to God’s justice, knowing intimately He will not inflict His wrath on those who have done nothing to deserve punishment.

 “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25 ESV)

It is with confidence the Psalmist declares His trust in the God of my righteousness!  Being identified with God means He is declared by God to have fulfilled all of the requirements of the moral law of God completely and wholly. He is righteous and just because God is righteous and just.

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