Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

I came across an article this morning from the BBC. Allow me to quote:

An army commander in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been accused of leading the recent mass rape of at least 50 women.

One of the victims, as well as sources quoted in a UN report, all accuse Lt Col Kibibi Mutware of links to New Year’s Day rapes in the town of Fizi.

There have been numerous cases of mass rape in DR Congo’s conflict but this is believed to be the largest single incident allegedly involving the army.

Is it an empty promise, that those who would believe Jesus could expect righteousness? Justice for all that has been done to them? Right-living, in relationship with God and at peace with the neighbour? Is it possible?

That is what Jesus promises. He says that the kingdom of heaven is where righteousness dwells.

Hard to believe it’s possible.

I mean, it’s not as though Church history particularly testifies to this reality. I’m sure one could point to the reverse.

Does that mean the Church, and therefore Christians, are not satisfied? If we excuse injustice or turn a blind eye, will we grow restless? Will our spirituality and prayers become dry? Will we seek to satisfy ourselves elsewhere? Will we become bored and complacent?

If we have no desire for God, for righteousness and for his Nearness, will we be satisfied too easily? That scares me more. Imagine a church where 3 songs, a prayer, a sermon and breadcrumb are enough. Imagine that Christian community where the sunday morning experience is satisfying. Their satisfaction will not come from God, but from the experience.

I find it easy to identify with that, because more often than not that is me. I’m satisfied with hearing a good sermon, or praying a thoughtful prayer, or singing grand exultations. How could I have been so numbed, that sunday morning is enough?

It’s a far cry from desiring righteousness for the raped women in the DRC, isn’t it?

It’s even further from desiring closeness with God in thought, word and action.

Yet it is the desire which is required. And God promises to satisfy it.

I shall pray, therefore, for the desire.

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9 Comments

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  1. Righteousness – how are you defining righteousness – is it doing the right thing or obtaining right standing with God? If it’s obtaining right standing with God then we know that doing the right thing will never achieve this.

    I read in the Word that when we became born again we were made the righteousness of God (because we received the righteoutness of Jesus and he was righteous before God. I know the rest of my Christian life is about learning how to live in what I have been given, with who I now am (a new creation) – not trying to get it. This gives me so much cause to praise and worship and glorify and magnify on a daily basis. I can’t get enough of his word – I love spending time with him, I love hearing from him, I love serving him, I am so grateful and thankful for what he has done for me.

    In becoming a Christian I was hungering and thirsting to be right with God. I recognised my need of him (through his grace and the gift of his faith – nothing of my self). When I accepted Jesus – when I confessed (and continue to confess) with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed (and go on believing) in my heart God raised him from the dead I am told(2 Cor 5) that I was through grace made the righteousness of God.

    I am truly blessed because thanks to him I hungered and thirsted for righteousness (to be right with God) Yes Mike that shall be is future tense for those who do not yet know him – but hallelujah I know him and I know that he has satisfied me. Yes I agree I don’t always feel satisfied but I know that’s as a result of me not following closely rather than him not having given me satisfaction. The more I seek to follow him closely and obey him more the more peaceful and joyful I am.

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    • A very brief Biblical word study of ‘Righteousness’ defines the concept in a number of ways.

      Firstly, in Deuteronomy, we are told that the response of obedience to God’s saving work is counted to them as righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). To me this indicates that righteousness is not concerned solely with belief, but with action otherwise just believing the story of God’s saving work i the Exodus would be called righteousness

      Secondly, I noticed the concept is wrestled with in Job. His friends rebuke him (wrongly, he was a righteous man who endured hardship beyond his understanding) with right theology: Elihu believes Job has sinned and tries to encourage him by reminding him that “[when] man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness.” (Job 33:26)

      Again, Elihu ascribes righteousness and knowledge to God in Job 36:3.

      By this I am informed that righteousness is ultimately dependent on God and what he will give a person. Elihu is accusing Job of some action which violates God’s righteousness, indicating to me a belief that righteousness is founded to some extent in action; action in response to God.

      Thirdly Psalms deeply explore righteousness. Even in the first 10 Psalms 2 contradictory ideas seem to be presented:

      Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
      because of my enemies;
      make your way straight before me.
      (Psalm 5:8)

      The Lord judges the peoples;
      judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
      and according to the integrity that is in me.
      (Psalm 7:8)

      Psalm 5 is a song of worship, stressing that it is through God’s grace that he can enter the temple and give his offering.

      Psalm 7 the singer complains that there is not just reason for his opponents to be harming him. He is adamant that he is righteous before God and has no sin which should cause God to judge him.

      Though these notions seem contradictory, I think it illuminates something of the notion of righteousness in the Old Testament: A person is righteous when they walk in obedience to God. This is rooted in the Exodus story and through obedience to the law, maintained. In the law, repentance offerings are prescribed and when a person did these, he was obeying the law and could forget his sins and claim righteousness before God. This is a righteousness God gave Israel through the law, that by doing these seemingly insignificant things, God would look on them as righteous.

      Of course in the Prophets we see Israel’s total failure to keep the law and thus separate herself from God (Isaiah 1:21), and then the promise that God will restore them (Isaiah 1:26-27). Righteousness is firmly in God’s hand – his gift as a part of his nature – to which Israel (indeed, God’s people always and forever) are called to adhere to.

      In answer to your question, Beverly, there is no difference between doing the right thing and obtaining right standing with God, for faith in itself is an act of righteousness as is serving the poor, hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned.

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    • I don’t disagree with you a great deal on this Beverly – as you make clear with the distinction ‘confessed and continue to confess’ and ‘believed and go on believing’; its something for the here and now as well as hope for the future.
      Just the same as my view on the ‘shall’ promises really. Something for here and now, tomorrow, next week and so on, eventually leading to the final, perfect fulfillment on the promise where ‘God wipes every tear from our eye’.
      I share your frustration at times with oneself in not feeling satisfied – not God’s fault but mine.

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  2. Again, good stuf Ian. I like the way you question the limits of the realities people may have.

    So, rape victims in Africa. You may even like to use the following example about this particular beatitude as its real and IMHO absolutely powerful.

    I think you know I did an overland trip to Sierra Leone 3 years ago. 5 trucks and a lorry, 26 people, crossing minefields and recent war zones. Mainly comfy English folks on the trip and we were all scared at some points. Many found the last week of no ‘civilisation’ in south Senegal, Guinee and finally Sierra Leone deeply disturbing – if there were uniforms of police or army they just wanted money or a gift and did not give a feeling of security. Some parts had no law and order other than village elders.

    Sierra Leone itself suffered one of the most vicious recent civil wars around the turn of this century. The film Blood Diamond has a go at capturing what went on – I still can’t watch it after my time in the country. Filmaker Claudio von Planta was with us and he filmed during the civil war. He knew, saw and filmed the reality of what went on.

    Was God there? Most definately. In fact the Christian church has been in the forefront of rebuilding the country, both buildings and lives. It has blossomed compared to before the war. Bible verses are everywhere, on buildings, buses, literature of organisations. Some Koran too, but the muslim community has, in general, found it harder to forgive and rebuild.

    I spent a week there, visiting projects amongst children and youth. These left you speechless in the main. Teachers paid £20 per month who gave their heart and soul to the kids. Victims of family destruction, former child soldiers, girls who survived through prostitution. The fabric of society destroyed and trying to come back from the dead.

    Claudio was off filming personal interviews of the effect the rebuilding was having on lives. One day, 4 people went to visit a project which worked with displaced children, nothing unusual in that, it was the same each day. When they returned, everyone was clearly challenged and couldn’t stop talking about a particular girl. Her story?…….

    Her family was confronted by rebels, again nothing unusual for the civil war. Her parents were dragged from the home, to be executed in front of the kids. Again, its typical of what happened then, for no particular reason. However, she somehow managed to get her parents spared by offering herself to the rebels. I think she was about 12 years old then, but maybe younger.
    So the family were spared, but the oldest daughter was taken away, to be a servant, sex slave and whatever, of the rebels. Unimaginable.
    She survived, damaged but with her dignity and mental powers mainly intact, to the end of the war. She had a small baby, resulting from an unwanted pregnancy. As things became more stable in the country, she was able to receive help from one of the organisations we helped. They took her back to her home village, to be re-united with the family she saved.

    Unbearably, she was rejected by her own family. In spite of all best efforts, her family rejected the baby born in a rebel camp and therefore her. She was too dangerous, too tainted in their view, and must leave – never to return.

    In the interview, she spoke of God’s help in dealing with everything, how she managed to love the child, at the time a toddler. The 4 people who did the interview wept uncontrollably. Even Claudio, who has filmed commandos in Afghanistan, had a close friend kidnapped in Iraq and been ‘missing in film action’ a few times was deeply touched – to him it showed the future, the way to go.

    Hunger for righteousness? I’m sure she did. It was great to help in a small way the organisation who themselves were helping hundreds, thousands of ‘war kids’. Don’t get me started on what Western Governments have done to help, or hinder, in this country. But you could watch Blood Diamond for a small clue.

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  3. I saw that movie once and found it difficult to watch, yet genius storytelling.

    When one thinks of the scale, the sheer number affected and then thinks of the individual and the depth to which that life was ruined, it seems a burden too heavy. It seems too much to believe God will satisfy the hunger and thirst there.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

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    • well, the reality was even worse than the movie – I know because Claudio spoke of what he had discovered, and filmed testimony to. Almost too terrible to even contemplate in ones own life. Too terrible for the movies.

      ….but, the reality of God at work in lives mutilated beyond recognition to us, well, its even better than we dare imagine. God is good!

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  4. Yes thanks Mike – what a testimony of God’s love and power in the situation upholding her through something we couldn’t even imagine – praise the Lord. As you say he was right there in the middle of the situation – doing whatever he was allowed to do by those trusting in him.

    Ian – I do so often struggle that your concepts of biblical terminology seem to say firmly rooted in the old testament. As you know I disagree with you on the subject of Job because he isn’t mentioned in the hall of faith in Hebrews – faith (as confirmed in Hebrews) was the way in which righteousness was credited to people – notice righteousness was credited it wasn’t admired or congratulated – always God’s gift to men because of faith – not man’s achievement through works. The work of faith is to do what you say.

    Mention of old testament saints such as David must be viewed in the light of Jesus in the new testament – it was impossible for David to approach God in the same way a Christian can today – so if we are examining how we today should approach God we clearly have to examine new testament definitions at least alongside old testament ones surely?

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    • I don’t think that much has changed in regards to righteousness. Israel’s foundation was the grace God showed in saving them from Egypt. Our foundation is the grace of the Cross. Much like Israel, our response to this act determines whether we will be counted righteous. Abraham was counted righteous by faith, and that is the essence of Israel’s religion and ours. That is why I try to root my definitions in the Old Testament. The difference between the Exodus and Christ is that in Christ, God did far more than in the Exodus. The nature of the relationship is still rather similar. We are still called to faith by obedience.

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  5. The exodus is a type and a shadow of Christ – it cannot be viewed or understood as a separate stand alone event – that would be to miss the point.

    The nature of the relationship is the same not similar – but to imagine the relationship is called to faith by obedience is to misunderstand the exodus – obedience is a fruit not a root. As you yourself have said to me before the hebrews were saved by grace before they obeyed. Obedience was a result of grace not a means by which to obtain it.

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