The Joy In Righteousness

The other night I was walking back to my car and I heard dance music thumping out of a club. It was a song I had never heard before but I recognized the beat, the rhythm. The door of the club opened and voices sprang out, the bustling echo of strangers meeting for a night, probably never again.

I stopped at my car. This was life another lifetime ago, weeks on end of cheap cologne and done up hair and dress shirts and twenty dollar bills. A strange rush of nostalgia swept over me as I remembered nights of mindless grinding on a dirty dance floor and introducing myself to people I’d never remember, sweating all over and not caring.

I couldn’t help but laugh in that parking lot about all those stupid friends doing stupid things together. I admit, right then I missed it. My feet almost moved that direction. I was tempted to see what had changed, how it was now, if I could slide back into the frantic madness of that scene. I got in the car and told myself, I’ve moved onto a better thing, but I wondered if I really believed that. I wondered if by having chosen this new life I was missing out on something.

On the drive home a police car roared past me. Another one pulled some guy over. I began to remember how awful it was to go through the same thing every night — calm down the drunk guy, comfort crazy drunk girl, dodge the police, lie to parents, watch the wallet dry up, always sleepy in the day, unceasing gossip, drama and drama and drama with people we never knew, this girl sleeping with this guy and another guy getting pissy about it — it was like an endless cesspool of the lowest human instincts played out to their inevitable ruinous end.

No peace, always conflict. No growth, always hypocrisy. What was fun for a night became disgusting for life. Some of us moved on to better things, but I see most of them are doing the same things with no end in sight. Like babies dressed in big kids’ clothes.

Truthfully, there were some good times. I do miss it now and then. I’ve never smoked but the smell of a lit cigarette puts me in a weird place of calm. A ridiculous dance song will bring on a good mood. Who doesn’t want to dance when that lady says I’m flying like a G6? I have an affinity for brash, gangsterish, idiotic dudes who think manliness is crushing a beer can with their butt cheeks. I tend to float over to dudes like that and get stupid right along with them. There was at least a fleeting sort of entertainment in all this. In those moments, hanging out with fifty people at a time, racing cars and drinking the night away, I could say it was pretty darn fun.

Which makes righteousness look like a joyless, soulless, tiresome chore. Most of the times we equate “clean fun” to the regular scenario minus the bad stuff. So a Christian party is like a regular party minus alcohol. A Christian movie is like a regular movie minus swearing, gunshots, and sex scenes. Christian music is like sanitized Country replacing the word “babe” with “Jesus.” The world’s view on righteousness is a constraining legality over any sort of unadulterated recklessness.

More and more I buy into this less and less. I think a group of Christians might have copied the culture and censored it for their own purposes to call it “clean fun,” but this isn’t righteousness. It isn’t even fun. If the idea is that fun must be a toned down version of our animal instincts, it will never fit into either world. It’s like flat soda or salty candy: no essence and no sense.

The joy of righteousness feels so spiritual that I’m not always sure how to grasp it. But each day I get it a little more. It requires more patience than running into a club and dancing for four hours with a sweaty shadow. I suppose you could take a private jet to the top of a mountain and claim the whole view, but the reward is in the climb. Celebration doesn’t mean much if you celebrate itself; no one celebrates the day after your birthday because it isn’t your birthday. There must be a reason.

I could tell you to do the things that sound righteous, like prayer and reading the Bible and evangelizing and doing missions and volunteering. Those are certainly grand causes worthy to rejoice. But I find joy in those small day to day moments, you know. Like when God turns the sky that funny pink color as the sun dips behind the trees and I call someone to tell them about it, or when I tell a child he can endure past this trial and he does, or when I can share a Bible verse with someone and it’s the exact verse they needed at that very second.

Face to face, honest, midnight conversations about life goals. Cold ginger ale and a good movie. Laughing about nothing. The little forward step when you fight off an addiction for another day. Praying with a broken friend and helping them off the floor of their life. The moment when someone understands the life and death of Jesus and you can see in their face that they’re undone. Hugging someone because you mean it. Sitting on a tiny couch shoulder to shoulder flipping channels. Telling someone you love them and not expecting anything back. Biting your tongue when the angry words try to burst. Smiling over the ability to think about things. We couldn’t even try to attempt such simple joy in the old self; it takes momentum, a perseverance, a moving forward. It takes real appreciation for life, not a fake dance floor with fake fog and fake people.

There’s really a wild exuberance in leaving behind all the junk that weighs you down and then holding onto the One who never lets go. A kind of mad joy in being persecuted for our faith. I love being free of regrets and drama and drama queens. I love becoming undignified for One who is worthy of my dance moves; the club dancing always left a trashy aftertaste. Just dancing is like a cool breeze on a hot day. I relish the truth and justice and fellowship and loyalty and compassion with forward-minded people. I love the victory in overcoming with patience, gentleness, and discipline. I love it that I can even talk to God and acknowledge the glory that He’s due. There’s a crazy release in setting my affections on the God who doesn’t forget my name, who doesn’t lead me to ruin, who is good for life.

Righteousness is joy not because we hold it over others, but because we can hold it at all. It’s not a “cleaned up” anything, but a whole new world of possibilities for honor. I might miss the club some days, but there I was always missing everything else. Whether we can call it morally wrong or not, it isn’t conducive to anything beyond itself. Celebration builds on a reason: the God who saves us from wretchedness to righteousness, who has the better in store. Anything less is less than nothing.

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