Derwin Gray: Cultivate a Hunger for Righteousness

I long for sad things to be untrue one day. I hunger for wrongs to be made right. I thirst for the hurt to be healed and the broken to be fixed. I want decay and death to give way to life and human flourishing. Like you, I’m longing for God’s justice and shalom (peace) to overwhelm our unjust world. And as I long for the brokenness out there to be healed, I also desire the brokenness in me to be healed.

Perhaps some of you reading these words will say, “There can’t be a god with all this injustice, suffering, and ugliness, and if there is, he can’t be powerful and loving.” I get it. I understand. Please, just keep reading. Because whether or not you realize it now, your anger, disappointment and desire for the ugly realities of our broken world to be fixed are a longing for the beauty of God. 

How do we know something is unjust unless we believe there is a standard of justice? 

Why do we get angry and hurt by suffering unless we know it shouldn’t be that way? 

How do we know a line is crooked unless there is a straight line to compare it to? 

If we long for goodness, beauty and justice, there must be One who created these things. That Creator must exhibit those things because you can’t give away what you do not possess. As we yell and shake our fists at all the wrongs in the world, we are longing for God to make the sad things untrue, to make the ugly beautiful, to heal the hurt. We are joining in the song of the ancient Jewish people when they sang, “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love” (Ps. 33:5). We join the Jewish prophet Amos when he wrote, “But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24). 

The One True God, that is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, made creation good and we messed it up. We introduced death and decay. But God didn’t leave us in our mess. Amazingly, he joined us in our brokenness. He even allowed all the sad things that have happened to us to happen to him on the cross. 

He does this so his resurrection can birth a new creation right in the heart of the old. The righteousness and justice we long for walked out of a tomb in Jerusalem. In Jesus of Nazareth, the triune God became an actor in his own play, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he wants us to become actors in the divine drama of redemption. We become his agents of redemption. 

Healing can only happen if we are willing to act. The good life is a life that answers God’s call to make a positive difference in the world, to be a giver, not a taker. How different will the world be because you existed? You don’t have to be famous to make a difference—you just need to be faithful. God doesn’t need your ability; he just wants your availability. 

Think about this—you are the answer to someone’s prayers. Someone is praying right now, and God wants to use you to answer their prayer. The justice the world longs for is found in you. The King of heaven gives you his righteousness so you can express it to the world around you. If Jesus can lay down his life for us, who are we to keep our lives? Paradoxically, when we lay down our lives in service to others, we find the true good life. Happiness is making another image-bearer’s life better. 

Happiness is found in meeting another’s need.

Happiness is found in healing a hurt.

Happiness is found in becoming God’s paintbrush to create beauty where there is ugliness, hope where there is despair, and salvation where there is condemnation. 

God cares about the whole person and for all of humanity right here and now. It’s hard for hungry people to hear the gospel over the sound of a grumbling stomach. It’s hard for people to hear “Jesus loves you” when they see Jesus’ people being unloving. The early church embodied Jesus’ practice of caring for the whole person. It was what they were known for. 

Author Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, writes: 

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“Christianity revitalized life in the Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded family. To cities torn by violent strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”

Tertullian (AD 155–220), a North African church leader, wrote: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents . . . they say how they love one another!” 

Jesus, in the Beatitudes, said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Jesus takes a common human feeling and connects it to God’s kingdom. In the ancient Jewish world, people knew what true hunger and thirst were like. Food and water were not as abundant then as they are now. In the Jewish context of the first century, to thirst and hunger for righteousness was to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor the way you love yourself. Jesus understood covenantal faithfulness to the Torah as love for God, self, and neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to long for love and embody that love at school, at work, in relationships, in parenting, in everything. 

Just as a person can’t live without food or water, we cannot live without God. We were made to be fueled by God’s life and love. He is the only food that will nourish us and the only drink that will satisfy our thirst. As the author of Scripture, Jesus has Isaiah 55:1 in mind: 

“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!” 

The food and water we need to live and thrive are free of charge—we simply must come. Our love for God doesn’t originate in us; it’s a response to his gift of eating and drinking at his banquet. He freely feeds us and gives us all we need to be conformed to the image of Christ. 

Happy people are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled. 

Adapted from The Good Life. Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Derwin Gray. Published by B&H Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by Permission 

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