I am reading River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Bede Griffiths, the current pick by my spirituality book club. Griffiths said at the outset that he believes that as we learn about beliefs different than our own, we can see our own more deeply, look at our beliefs wearing different glasses. This morning I read his commentary on these verses from the Gita:
“I will tell thee a supreme mystery, because thy soul has faith. It is vision and wisdom and when known thou shalt be free from sin. It is the supreme mystery and wisdom and the purification supreme. Seen in a wonder of vision, it is a path of righteousness very easy to follow, leading to the highest End.”
I have been studying theology a long time but it hit me this morning that I really have not grasped the meaning of righteousness. Jesus, in some way, is supposed to give us righteousness. He won it for us on the cross, I think the teaching goes. What the heck is that supposed to mean? For me to grasp something, it has to plug into my sense of what is humanly real.
Griffiths says that righteousness is Dharma or intuitive knowledge. Knowledge? Really? This is what righteousness used to look like to the little kid I used to be: In God’s eyes, I was a bad kid, full of bad thoughts and actions and I deserved to die for that badness. But Jesus came along and was supposed to wash all that badness away so that God could stand me. Baptism was a symbolic gesture that meant cleaning up the soul. It did the job for a while, washing off the sins I’d inherited from Adam and Eve, but as I got older, I did my own sinning and got all dirty again. Then I was supposed to get cleaned by going to confession. The problem was that I was too ashamed to tell the priest my sins, so I never felt clean…ever. To me, righeousness meant “right with God”, being alright to be looked at by God. You should feel sorry for that child…I sure do.
After reading Griffiths’ ideas this morning, I checked my Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. Righteous, according to the first definition, means “ morally right, virtuous, and law-abiding”. I have to say, I tried so hard to be that as a child, to compensate for my badness, that I squeaked. The second definition is this: “Perfectly wonderful, fine and genuine”. Now that definition I really like. “Wonderful and fine” is what I feel toward my grandchildren even when they are making some bad decisions. I told one of my granddaughters once, “There is nothing you can possibly do that could stop me from loving you.” They are wonderful and just fine with me. I expect them to misbehave sometimes. I expect them to be self-centered. This is being human. They are still wonderful and fine.
This last word strikes me – “genuine”. What if what Jesus did for me is to make me genuine. A genuine person, to me means a person who is truly themselves. What you see is what you get. A person who is genuinte will tell the truth of what they see. God doesn’t’ expect perfect behavior, he wants us to be who we are, who he created us to be: us. Righteousness is rightly seeing who I am and acting in a way that is consistent with who I am. This is intuitive knowing. It is not necessarily the knowing we get through deductive reasoning. It flows from our gut rather than our heads.
To the child. I see now that God was sad by the burden I carried. I did not realize that he thought I was wonderful and fine. He gave me Jesus, not to clean me up so that God could stand to look at me, but to reveal to myself who I am so that I can be that person and so that I could see that I was wonderful and fine. “And God created the little girl and he said, “It is good.’”