Preachers and prophets warn us and reveal our transgressions and sins against righteousness, but we don’t listen. We let their words tickle our ears and, if we apply them at all, we apply them to others, not to ourselves. We feel put out that anyone should have the nerve to tell us we’re not righteous, not good, not going the right way. We excuse ourselves a hundred times for each time we excuse the faults of others.
Though we don’t even know what righteousness is, we’re experts at tormenting others, and even ourselves. We call it ‘guilt tripping.’
(Usually former) Catholics often tell me that they’re very good at it. They tell me they learned how to do it at church. This could be true of anyone who had a fussy, scolding mother when they were growing up. Too bad ‘Holy Mother Church’ is often ‘wholly step-mother church’.
Yet, righteousness is inherent in reality. It’s nothing other than ‘how things work.’ It’s not a system of morality imposed from the outside, either by a god or by ourselves. When we go against our nature—because unlike irrational creatures, we can—we set into motion series of events that deviate from this inherent righteousness and lock us in, passengers comfortably seated on a train that soon or late plunges into an abyss. Why? Because there is no bridge, and we didn't know.
If there is a God, why did he make such a dangerous place and put us in it? So he could arrange a rescue and make himself look good? Is he just a boy playing with us, his toy soldiers? Why didn’t he make a level playing field with limitless possibilities, since he knew he’d be making creatures like us who’d want to try everything without restraint? If we can’t be righteous the way we are, neither can God!
There simply is no answer to this dilemma, so it seems. That’s just the nature of reality. The scientist can’t argue with physical constants when they won’t do what he wants them to, and he can’t negate them with impunity. Neither can the mathematician get around the multiplication table when it suits him: it’s absolute and inflexible. He’ll never come up with the correct product if he ignores it. Ours is a hard universe.
Whatever it is we are—call it human—this inherent righteousness is as necessary to us and as inseparable from us as our own bodies. It’s as indispensable as the time and space we inhabit. It’s an inalienable part of our nature. In alignment with it, that nature fulfills itself, is successful, and endures. In opposition to it, that nature is stifled, malfunctions, and freezes. This is exactly not the problem with God. It is the problem with us.
Where now are the accusers of a cruel and judgmental God? On the contrary, He does everything He can to help us recover our course when we get off track. When, not if. Inherent righteousness is not an issue of crime and punishment, but one of sickness and death. Sin is to turn against nature, to effect a lasting state of suicide of the soul. ‘I’ve come not for the righteous, but for sinners, not for the healthy, but for the sick.’
He builds a house, gives it to us, and tells us to maintain it. He gives us bodies, instructs us in the ways of cleanliness and health, and expects us to follow His instructions. For the world to exist at all, it must be what it is. Inherent righteousness is its nature. We can call it whatever we please—His law, His statutes, His decrees, if we are speaking theologically, natural law if we are speaking scientifically. It’s all one.
In the second year of Darius, in the eighth month, the word of Yahweh was addressed to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, as follows, ‘Cry out to the remnant of this people and say to them, Yahweh Sabaoth says this: Return to Me, and I will return to you, says Yahweh Sabaoth.’
Zechariah 1:1-3 Jerusalem Bible