As I was contemplating this month's resolution, something struck me quite forcefully - something I had never considered previously. I was struck by the difference between "righteousness" and "spirituality". Since this is a new concept for me, I hope I can articulate it properly and it will be instructive - both for myself and others.
My search of the scriptures was incredibly instructive. (Have I said I love our on-line scriptures with the search option?) "Righteous" had 214 references in our canon; "spiritual" was listed 45 times. That was interesting. However, "righteousness" (the actual result of being righteous) appears in our canon 274 times, while "spirituality" (the actual result of being spiritual) appears a grand total of . . . . . . . 0 times. Nada; not once; zero; nil; never. That alone told me something profound.
When I looked up "spirituality" in the dictionary, the most interesting and comprehensive definition was, "of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material". In other words, to "be spiritual" means to be focused on the spirit - and, by extension, away from the body.
"Righteous", on the other hand, is defined as "characterized by or proceeding from accepted standards of morality or justice". In other words, to "be righteous" means to be "right with or living in accordance with proper standards **of action, not thought**" - which implies actions that, of necessity, are accomplished by the soul - the connected and united body and spirit.
The thought that hit me was that there is a real difference between being "spiritual" and being "righteous". There is an even bigger difference between pursuing "spirituality" and striving for "righteousness". If I have to choose between one or the other, I need to choose righteousness as the object of my hunger and thirst. Spirituality can be a motivating factor in pursuing a connection to the Holy Spirit, but it alone cannot produce a perfect (complete and whole) life lived in harmony with God's standards for all His children. Again, we are not commanded to seek spirituality as an end goal - to hunger and thirst after it. Why is that?
In a very real way, "spirituality", alone and isolated, is selfish, inwardly focused, susceptible to gluttony (constant spiritual feeding with no service to burn away spiritual calories), insular, and not inherently active or giving. It is understanding without application; it is the spirit divorced from the body; it is belief without action; in a way, it is like faith without works. Furthermore, if pursued exclusively, it can lead to a hermit-like existence away from the world - like a monk sequestered in a monastery living a life of isolated introspection - doing no bad, but also doing no good - never finding completeness and wholeness.
On the other hand, "righteousness" is selfless, focused on actions, high spiritual energy consuming, service-oriented, producing fruits that can feed one's self and others and bring the Holy Ghost to replenish personal spirituality. "Righteousness" is the physical application of true "spirituality" - the "proof" of real faith - and the difference between the "fruits of the Spirit" and the "works of man". (The last comparison is the topic of my next post.)
No wonder the command is NOT to hunger and thirst after spirituality, but instead to hunger and thirst after righteousness. In fact, what hits me as I type this is that righteousness can be phrased as "being right with God". That is a good way of describing the effect of God's grace - since it is God's grace that allows "being right" to mean being as complete and whole as one can be at any given point on the path that leads eventually to becoming truly complete and whole. One can be "righteous" all along that path, all the while hungering and thirsting after perfect righteousness.
That is a noble pursuit, worthy of our hunger and thirst.