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Purity & Righteousness

What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 11 & 12

When I was in seminary, I learned an important lesson about two different streams that were contained in aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.

The first stream had to do with the pursuit of purity. The emphasis of such passages had to do with preventing individuals from coming into contact with those things that would defile the individual's body or mind. If you did (or in some cases, did not) do certain things, you were considered pure; if you did not (or in some cases - did) other things, you were considered impure. Once lines were crossed, very specific rituals had to be performed in order to restore an individual to a condition of purity.

One of the primary characteristics of such passages is that they are incredibly directive since everything was black and white. If you touched an object, you were impure: so DON'T touch it. If you did not wash your hands after encountering an object, you were impure: so WASH YOUR HANDS. That's the way passages dealing with issues of purity were handled.

The second stream of Scripture had to do with the pursuit of righteousness. This stream has a very different feel to it. Instead of being linked to a physical condition like purity, passages focusing on righteousness had to do with a state of being – or perhaps I could say - a quality of the heart.

You might, for instance, not touch a forbidden object (meaning you were pure) – but in your heart you are consumed with lust or desire for the object (meaning you aren't exactly righteous).

Issues of righteousness are much more complex for an individual because they involve one's inner life. Those issues prevent complexities for the community since it is difficult for one person to make judgments about issues involving righteousness involving another since they can't fully know the heart of the other person.

Lots of Jesus teaching tended to emphasize the latter stream of Scripture – the emphasis upon righteousness. One of the best examples would be Jesus' teaching about adultery. There Jesus suggested a person might not actually physically commit and adulterous act (meaning the individual is still technically "pure") – but if the person looks at another with lust, the person is in dangerous territory. Same with Jesus' teaching on killing. You might not actually have taken someone's life, but if you have hatred in your heart toward another, you are on shaky ground.

If we are not careful, we can lose ourselves in the academic aspect of the discussion/debate between purity and righteousness and forget what really matters: both streams of Scripture were intended to draw us into a healthier relationship with God. They simply represent different approaches to getting there.

Today, I would ask you which stream you find yourself identifying with/gravitating toward. Are you someone who focuses on right relationship with God as established through the principles of purity, or do you seek right relationship more through the principles of righteousness?

Til next time …

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