What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. –Romans 4:3
A high school senior in our church recently submitted a letter to the editor for our local paper where he lamented adults looking at his generation as the one that will fix everything that is wrong with the world. “That's not exactly inspiring, and it puts a lot of pressure on my generation,” he wrote. Passing the buck for previous generations’ failings onto young people is understandably deflating. It also concedes a moral passivism that sells short our God-dreamed purpose in life.
Telling young people that we’re no longer capable of doing anything constructive is a dodge of accountability that fearfully assumes we are judged for our mistakes in this life. Looking to young people to fix today’s problems takes the pressure off us not only to do anything about those problems, but to assume any responsibility for contributing to them. “If we stay above the fray, we’ll be okay”—free from judgment. But God doesn’t judge based on a record of missteps. God judges according to righteousness, by the measure to which we actively try to do what is kind, just, and good for self and neighbor.
The scripture that Paul refers to in his letter to the Romans about Abraham’s righteousness is Genesis 15:6. In that passage, the Common English Bible translates Abraham’s (Abram at that point) righteousness as “high moral character.” God’s judgment credits us, as Paul writes, in accordance with our high moral character. It does not punish us, as we anxiously assume, by some narcissistic record-keeping of our lowest transgressions—and even the best of us have a handsome handful of those. Being so afraid we have contributed to the world’s failings that we convince ourselves that any further action on our part will only serve to muddy the waters even more—that the alleged sins of our past make us incapable of righteousness in these present moments—is a tragic waste of time that sells us and the generations that follow us short.
Not even two weeks ago, Chadwick Boseman, the actor most famous for his role as Black Panther in four Marvel movies, died after a four-year struggle with cancer. During those four years, he starred in six movies and consistently contributed words and actions of high moral character to the people and places where around him.
A colleague of Boseman, Lupita Nyongo, who acted alongside him in the movie Black Panther, wrote this tribute to him on social media: “When I was around Chadwick, I wanted to be better, less petty, more purposeful…He was fueled by love, not fear. He moved quietly, deliberately and without imposing himself or his ideals on others. And yet he also made sure that his life meant something. He was unwavering about that. He cared so deeply about humanity, about Black people, about his people. He activated our pride. By pushing through and working with such high purpose in the films he chose to commit to, Chadwick has made the infinite his home. In his honor, I promise not to waste my time. I hope you will do the same.”
God is not judging you based on what you have done or left undone. So, fear not. Take courage. The Holy One who loves this whole world judges us according to righteousness. That judgment is a credit, not a demerit, granted to us gladly in accordance with the things we do to build up, to cast out fear, to extend unearned mercy and forgiveness, to work for justice, to share kindness, to prove that love is all that matters, and to reveal what Jesus said was right here among us all along: the kin-dom of God.