What does it even mean to be righteous? Going through Paul’s letter to the Romans, it appeared to me that a proper understanding of the word righteous wouldn’t be bad, since much of the content of the letter seems to be centered around it. A friend of mine, being jurist by profession, taught me that the laws of Norway are supposed to reflect, and to be executed in reflection of what is thought to be righteous according to the people of Norway. In a democratically governed society like Norway, this practice shouldn’t come as a big surprise. However, what we can learn from it, I believe, is that righteousness is a relative concept. At least I think that this must be the way Paul is thinking when he is writing to the Romans, arguing that God is righteous. If I am supposed to be counted as righteous in the eyes of the Norwegian government, it means that I have to do what is right according to the Norwegian laws. Similarly, if I am to be counted as righteous in the sight of God, I have to do what is right according to the law of God. And when Paul is arguing that God is righteous, it occurs to me that he is thinking the same way. That is — Paul is saying that God is doing right according to his own law. And the law of God, is the word (/message) that was given to the the Israelites; the Law given to Moses (ch. 3, esp. v1)!
And exactly where can it be seen that God being righteous according to Paul means that he is keeping his own word/ law? Let us take chapter 9, verses 6 throughout 18 as an example. in verse 6 Paul is discussing whether or not God has kept his word. Here the word of God is to be understood as the same word of God, I believe, that was given to the Jews (3:1); in other words The Law of Moses; the will of God. And then, in the continuing he shows by referring to the word of God (the law of Moses) that; yes, indeed God has kept his word. And even more clearly it is seen in verse 14. Here Paul asks whether or not there is injustice with God, since, as Paul is arguing, God loves whom he wants, and hates whom he wishes to hate. I mean; this certainly does seem quite unjust to many of us! But no, says Paul, God is not being unrighteous, because he is doing right according to what he told in his word; his will; his message — revealed to the Jews. In other words: Paul is saying that this sort of election practice that God have used, is exactly what he in His word told that he was going to use. Therefore God is being righteous in doing so. He does keep his word. Therefore God isn’t being unrighteous when he chooses to love one person, and chooses to hate another.
But how can this not be unjust? How can such a God be good? Well, the short answer is that which Paul gives in verse 20: Of course it is not up to you and me to define what is ultimately righteous! God does whatever he wants, and he calls whatever he wishes for righteousness. A more compelling argument, however, might be seen from the rest of the word of God (that is; his will, revealed to men). In short; he gave his own son in the place of sinful men – he didn’t have to do that. Or take the creation; it bears witness of a creator that is indeed both loving, gracious and enormously good! So of course what Paul writes here is not in opposition to that, and neither should you be lead astray to start pondering about whether God loves or hates you! Then I believe you have missed the point Paul is trying to make. But in an attempt to keep my posts at a decent length, I will not go into details about that this time.
Read the letter over and over again (up to chap. 10 or so) with the thoughts I just proposed in mind, and see whether it makes sense or not!