My Psalm 113
Glass Half Full
Righteousness is one of those words that seldom is used in ordinary conversation. It really isn’t part of anyone’s vernacular (A brief attempt at being slang to describe something very good lasted only a few years.) and yet, it is the reason behind a great deal of the actions positive and negative in the world today. It was Bob Marley who said “What important is man should live in righteousness, in natural love for mankind.”
What is righteousness? In Confucianism, it is “yi” or the moral tendency to do right or good. The Rashidan Caliphs were four caliphs or rulers in Sunni Islam that were to provide examples of behavior that was to be emulated. The name translates as “righteously guided”. The Hawaiian word for righteousness is found in the state’s motto Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono or “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”.
Righteousness, also referred to as rectitude, is a very important part of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It refers to the attribute of perfection that one should aspire to while knowing only God can attain it. Righteousness relies on the concept of being judged, having one’s actions justified as being pleasing or in conjunction with religious teachings of the faith.
In 1526 William Tyndale translated the Bible into English and edited the word “rihtwis”, Hebrew for rightwise. Martin Luther in the sixteenth century emphasized the inability of man to attain perfection, thus making righteousness impossible. He called the emphasis on attaining righteousness the theology of the cross and encouraged man to focus on good deeds instead, referring to this as the theology of glory. In his 1518 sermon entitled “Two Kinds of Righteousness”, Luther called the theology of the cross an “alien righteousness” and the theology of glory as “proper righteousness”. In Luther’s view, only God could fully explain and attain perfect righteousness. Man could justify his own being through good deeds and works, proper behavior and testament of one’s faith.
All of these types of righteousness have at their core good intentions but, as we all know, good intentions do not always equal a positive outcome. It is a bit like looking at a glass partially filled with water. Is the glass half full or is it half empty?
Philosopher W. S. Matthews discusses the rhetorical question this way: “A glass is transparent and is usually filled with something that is translucent, nothing of any real substance. Maybe, if we let the glass have a little more meaning, it would be more interesting.” Often that is the very crux of the matter when someone is deciding whether or not to do a good deed. What is the profit of the deed? What is the cost? Sadly, for some, the most important question is “What does it get me?”
Matthews suggests thinking of the glass as something we all have and value – a heart. “The heart is neither full nor completely empty. It’s just there. Now there is another heart that is completely full to the brim and needs to get rid of some of its content before it starts to overflow. We will call the content kindness and love. Some of which is put into our empty heart. Now that felt really good. Hopefully we can find some more. Doing a good deed feels great! When the process is repeated, our glass/heart is completely full. Now what? We need room to receive more. The solution is give to another empty glass/heart. That also feels just as good, if not better, than receiving. Give and you will receive.”
The rhetorical question is not simply an example of approaching life with a positive attitude or negative attitude. It is about being righteous. We will get as close to righteousness, regardless of how you define it, when we practice charity towards one another, regardless of what they look like, what they believe, what they eat, or what they live in or wear. Matthews also makes one more point. “If it is a shot glass, it is either full or empty, never at the halfway position.”
What an interesting analogy that would be if we applied it to life. What if we considered life neither half anything, no “Should I do this?” but a full commitment to always attempt righteous behavior? Then, in describing one’s actions, we could just use two words. Instead of “half full” or “half empty”, we could simply say (and show) … “I believe”.
My Psalm 113
Father and Mother to all,
You care not if we are poor.
You do not value us based upon what we wear.
You provide sustenance to all mankind.
You bless all who are in need.
You hear our cries and give us your comfort.
We bless you for your everlasting compassion
And try to live a life pleasing to your image.