In the third Prayer of the Matins service the Priest pleads with God to “teach us, Oh God, Your righteousness, Your commandments and Your ordinances …” We often address similar petitions to God in our common worship services; and this, according to the Lord’s commandment, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mat. 6:33). The Lord ascribes great importance to the acquiring of righteousness as this becomes evident by the fact that in He includes also one of them in His Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat. 5:6); which means that blessed are those who are not simply seeking for righteousness, but those who are anxious, like the hungry and thirsty ones, who are searching to find food and water in order to satisfy their hunger and thirst.
Truly, about us: are we feeling this kind of hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness?
However, What do we mean by the term “God’s righteousness”? God’s righteousness has various meanings in the Holy Bible, like: the prevalence of God’s will; the totality of virtues; vindication that is, acquittal and deliverance from the sins which God provides to man; salvation which is offered through faith in Christ the Savior. We, let us concentrate today on the notion of awarding justice on the part of God.
From what at times one hears, there seems to be some confusion as to the notion of God’s justice. Many people, even Christians, influenced by the human Justice, the way in which the State courts of a country are functioning, the Penal system proceedings and all the related matters, consider that God has to follow the principles of the human Justice system in order for Him to be just. If He does not do so, people accuse God as being unjust!
However, from the very beginning, we must make clear that God’s justice is different from the human justice. A distinguished judge, who for decades was a disciple of our contemporary Saint Porfyrius, put the matter this way: the human justice is a “repaying one” that is to say, depending on the kind and the degree of breaching the Law, an equivalent penalty is enforced which is determined by the Penal Code and the equivalent legislation; while God’s justice is a “restoring” one that is to say, it aims not at punishing but at healing illegality and at restoring the one who has violated the law of God to his previous relationship with Him. This is easy to understand if we consider that, no matter how serious an illegality and sin someone may commit, when he will confess it with a sincere repentance in front of his Spiritual father, God forgives him.
Saint Paisios used to say: the human Justice says: Did you make a mistake? You must be punished. God’s justice says: Do you recognize your mistake and repent? You are forgiven. We are in the hands of God, Who is all love.
Our Judge is merciful and benevolent. He is not looking for something in order to condemn us; on the contrary, He is looking for something, and a minute one, in order to justify us. (Saint Theophanes the Recluse).
God’s justice is that justification, exoneration and deliverance from sins which is granted by God. The justice of God is benevolence, because it is mercy which is offered to him who is just (St. Nectarios).
Therefore, when we see God as an austere avenger for our mistakes and sins we are disfiguring the image of God; and it is this form that we project Him to our children. When the child does something that is not so nice and wrong we say to him: “God does not love you because of that which you did!” Or we say to someone who was unfair to us: “God will burn you for that which you did!” God never stops loving us. He does not punish us; He is instructing us so that we may come back to Him and enjoy His gifts!
My beloved brethren and sisters! After all these, should we perhaps re-examine our views about righteousness? Should we, perhaps, view righteousness with God’s eye rather than with a human eye? Saint Paisios was forwarding a simple example in order to make us understand the difference:
Let’s say that two men sit down at the same table to eat, and in front of them there is a plate with ten apricots in it. If the one of them says, We are two of us and the apricots are ten; therefore, five is the share for each one of us. Thus he eats five and leaves the other five to the other. This man applies the human justice; he is a man of human righteousness. It is for this human right that we rushing to the courts to claim it. However, if this man sees that the other man likes very mush apricots and shows him that he is not particularly fond of them, takes only one and says to the other man, “Brother, take all the rest because I am not particularly fond of them”, then this man has a divine righteousness for which he prefers to be unjust to himself. However, because of this divine righteousness, his sacrifice is rewarded richly by God.
The righteousness of a Christian can reach an unlimited tolerance for the weakness of someone else when it is discrete and aims at benefiting the other.
In every action of ours let us follow the example of our Lord: when he was blasphemed he was not getting angry; nor did He protest when they were spitting on Him; nor was He threatening when He was suffering. He was enduring everything, silently and patiently. And something else, even more significant: He was finding excuses in front of His Father for those who were persecuting Him and He was pleading with Him to forgive them: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34) (Saint Paisios).
May, all of us, free ourselves from the human mentality and acquire God’s righteousness!