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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Piety of the Pious


            The words “piety” and “pious” are not always the most appreciated in our world today because in many persons’ eyes they are often associated with hypocrisy and otherworldliness.  The pious person is often considered to be uninterested in this world, to be prudish and one who seeks to seclude himself from society.  Piety, because it has an introspective aspect to it, appears to be somewhat selfish in orientation.  Thus the pious person is seen as having little interest in the plight of people around him, taking a passive approach to issues and problems.  His time and energy is spent focusing on his own personal relationship with God.  He is sometimes described as being so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good.  This is unfortunate since the description above describes false piety.  In reality, the true pious person is just the opposite.  He is one who is in tune with and listens to the voice of God, responding accordingly.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his essay on piety included in his collected essays “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity” notes that “The pious man’s main interest is concern for the will of God, which thus becomes the driving force controlling the course of his actions and decisions, molding his aspirations and behavior.”  Since God is vitally interested in the affairs of mankind, the pious person has similar interests.  Heschel adds “Further, piety is an attitude toward reality in its entirely.  It is alert to the dignity of every human being, and to those bearing upon the spiritual value which even inanimate things inalienably possess.  The pious man, being able to sense the relations of things to transcendent values, will be incapable of disparaging any of them by enslaving them to his own service.”
            True piety greatly affects one’s worldview and interaction with the world.  Far from being other worldly and passive, the pious person is actively involved in this world precisely because he is in tune with God.  He is vitally interested in this world because God is interested in it.  He stands against oppression and brokenness because God stands against them.  He affirms human dignity because God does.  He engages his culture as did the pious men of old, such as the Old Testament prophets, who affirmed what was God pleasing in their society and condemned what wasn’t.  He promotes the responsible use of resources, believing that the creation mandate is one of stewardship, not dominion; one of replenishment and restoration, not of misuse and neglect.  Instead of being selfish, he selflessly serves others using the gifts God has so graciously given him.  His thoughts, his actions, his very being are in tune with God.  Piety is a mode of living whereby we gravitate towards God.  As such it is related to holiness.
            It is precisely because a pious person is so consumed with the will of God that he steps out in faith to engage his broken world.  Everything he says and does is evaluated reverently through the lens of God’s eyes.  To him, his interests and desires are less important than is God’s will.   The attainments of the world and its beautiful trappings are rejected if they are based on injustice and greed.  His love of God fuels compassion for the lost, the dispossessed, the poor and the disenfranchised, allowing him to reach out to them with his time, treasures and talents.  He is willing to share the resources at his disposal, believing that everything he has is a gift from God.  May we all be known for being pious!