Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness…
I am a theological schizophrenic.
Some days, I am an incorrigible rationalist. I like reading philosophy and theology. I like rational arguments and logic and consistency. I like highly charged debate about abstract and arcane concepts. I am drawn toward topics that have very little “practical” value. Thinking rightly about God’s nature and God’s purposes is very important to me. I like to be right.
And other days? Well, other days, I think none of this matters very much in the face of the enormous amount of concrete human suffering in our world. Other days, I think, “who cares about what the atonement was really about or about whether human freedom is real or illusory or about the historicity of this or that cherished passage of the Bible or about how prayer works or about the logical coherence of moral protests against God or about any of the things that I spend a good deal of time and effort thinking and writing about? The only important thing in this world working toward the alleviation of human suffering and injustice.
A year ago at around this time, I was in Colombia on a Mennonite Central Committee learning tour (I won’t go into details—I wrote about the experience here, if you’re interested). Suffice to say that it was a remarkable experience that has not and will not leave me. A number of my friends just returned from a similar tour. As I spoke with them last week, I heard similar sentiments to those I had experienced a year prior. “It makes you wonder what we’re doing here in the church in Canada… It makes you wonder about what privilege does to our theology, how it colours our worldview… It makes you question what’s really important… It makes you think that we spend a lot of time majoring on minors and minoring on majors…” Etc.
Yes. It does.
This past Sunday, our Sunday School class talked about the beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” It struck me how important those four letters—eous—really are. We are blessed when we hunger after righteousness yet so many of us (myself included!) seem a lot more interested in hungering and thirsting after rightness. We’re often lot more concerned about guarding our doctrines and traditions and “market share” in a dwindling religious marketplace, about drawing boundary markers, about currying political favour with the powers that be, about presenting faith as an attractive alternative to distracted, apathetic postmoderns, than we are in pursuing genuine righteousness (in the biblical, dikaiosune sense of the word, encompassing right-relatedness, justice, things-being-as-God-intended-for-all-ness).
Of course, rightness and righteousness are not completely unrelated. Far from it, actually. And on my better days, I manage to hold my two theological sides in something like a creative and necessary tension. But when I think back to my time in Colombia, when I hear more stories from friends, when I open my newspaper and read about human tragedy in places like Nigeria, Sudan, Palestine, India, Mexico, and on and on it goes… Well, I tend to think that if I had to err on one side, God would probably rather I be righteous with wrong ideas than unrighteous with the right ones.
April 28-29 have been designated “International Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia” by MCC Washington. For more information, click here.
As you read these words, a group of campesinos (displaced Colombian farmers) are marching from El Carmen de Bolivar to Cartagena to draw attention to their situation. We visited this region last year and saw firsthand the poverty and social distress that has resulted from the conflict in the region over the last number of decades, and the inadequacy of the Colombian government’s response. You can read more here and here.
As I was writing this post, I spent some time wandering through some photos from a year ago. One of my favourite pictures from my time in Colombia was taken in a slum south of Bogotá and is at the top of this post. I’ve included a few more below. So many beautiful people in need of God’s dikaiosune being let loose in the world…