Righteousness

The Jaredite king Emer presided over a period of prosperity, following a troubling time of political upheaval and distrust. Moroni tells us that “Emer did execute judgment in righteousness all his days” (Ether 9:21). What a relief it must have been for his people to know what to expect and to be able to have confidence in their leader’s commitment to doing what was right!

After anointing his son Coriantum to succeed him, Emer “saw peace in the land” for the remainder of his life. He grew close to God, and “even saw the Son of Righteousness, and did rejoice and glory in his day” (Ether 9:22).

Just before telling us about Emer, Moroni tells us that his greatest desire is to persuade us “to do good continually, that [we] may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved” (Ether 8:26). Several chapters later, Moroni quotes the Lord as saying, “Faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness” (Ether 12:28).

I’ve been thinking the past few days about the concept of “righteousness.” I’ve always thought of it as a synonym for obedience to God, but a talk given recently by Elder Quentin L. Cook has expanded my understanding of the word. Elder Cook said:

Righteousness is a broad, comprehensive term but most certainly includes living God’s commandments.

Hearts Knit in Righteousness and Unity,” General Conference, October 2020

So obedience is only part of what it means to be righteous. What else is involved? In a footnote, Elder Cook added the following insight: “Scriptures have singled out caring for the poor and needy as being a necessary element of righteousness.”

When the word “righteousness” appears in the King James Version of the Old Testament, it is usually a translation of the Hebrew word tzedakah (צְדָקָה). The term is closely associated with charitable giving. (See the definition of tzedakah in the Oxford Dictionary of English.) And while giving to the poor is considered to be a duty in the Jewish faith, the Jewish philosopher Maimonedes emphasized that it is better to give before being asked than after. (See the eight levels of tzedakah in Mishneh Torah 10:7-14.)

Which reminds me of the following guidance which the Lord gave to Joseph Smith on August 1, 1831 in Jackson County, Missouri:

It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27

So my conclusion is this: Righteousness means doing what is right, without needing to be asked. It is an empowering principle. We can proactively find ways to do good: to alleviate suffering, to bring joy to others, to build, to create, to lift, to strengthen. We can recognize needs and fulfill them. We can choose to give spontaneously. And as we do so, we will draw upon the power of the Savior, who is “the fountain of all righteousness.”

Today, I will strive to be righteous. I will obey God’s commandments, and I will additionally look for ways to do good, including helping those in need.

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