I have a friend who owns her own business. She is not a very religious person and there is only one instance where I hear her use religious language. Anytime she tells people the history of her business and it’s surprising success, she says: “I have been very blessed.”
What is it about a successful business that connects her with being “blessed?” Do we connect success and blessing? Do we connect good things we can’t explain with blessing? Is blessing a synonym for “fortunate” or “lucky”?
Blessing is one of those words we hear and throw around a lot, but we don’t really examine what we mean by it. I think my friend is genuine when she considers her successful business a blessing. But I think when Christians use the word this way, we often communicate (in very subtle ways) some bad ideas about God.
For example, if the business crashes and burns, is it still a blessing?
Perhaps Jesus would say: Yes.
It is a list about who and what God “blesses.” So before we dive in, we really need to understand what we mean by “blessing.”
If you are familiar with the Beatitudes, chances are you have heard it talked about in some really weird ways. If you don’t think our ideas of “blessing” and the Beatitudes are confused, play around with the different translations of this section of the Bible. We are very confused about what the Beatitudes mean.
I have heard “blessed” taught as the same thing as “happy.” But in the Beatitudes, one of the lines is: Blessed are you when you mourn. So…I am happy when I am sad?
Other times I have heard it used as an “if then” statement. If you will mourn, then God will give you comfort. This is perhaps the most popular way to view the Beatitudes. So we cram all of our bad theology into a list of “do this and God gives you what you want.” Again, this goes against the logic of the Beatitudes.
As a matter of fact, the way the Beatitudes end up is that if you live in the ways described, it will probably lead to persecution.
Wait, what? If God is in the business of giving me what I want, can’t I just mourn a little and be meek (whatever that means) and call it good?
When we think about blessing as success, getting what we want, happiness, good fortune, etc. we completely miss the point of the Beatitudes.
So what does Jesus mean when he says: Blessed are you when…. ?
It is not a formula to get God to do what you want. And for the first few sentences, Jesus is not even trying to get you to do anything. What Jesus wants to let people know is WHERE God is present.
The entire book of Matthew is the story of a God WITH us. And nowhere is this more pronounced than the Beatitudes. The first few Beatitudes remind us that God is often found in the lowest of moments, when we least expect it.
When life doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would, when we are outcasts or suffering, when we are ignored and disadvantaged, THESE are the moments and the places we find God in amazing ways.
The Beatitudes are not a list of things to help you manipulate God into getting your way. The are an invitation to see life in a whole new way. They are the announcement that things not going your way is not a sign God has given up on you. Rather, God becomes especially present when things don’t go your way.
The problem with using “blessed” as a synonym for success is that when bad things happen we often then assume it is God’s fault. Either God wants bad things for me, or I have somehow displeased God and so I am no longer in a state of being blessed. The Beatitudes turn all this on its head.
God has not given up. God is present even when you are at the end of your rope. God is not for the rich and powerful. We find God more in the low moments than anywhere else. God is not waiting for you to get you act together. God is present and with you here and now.
Perhaps we should rethink how we talk about being blessed. And that is what we will do for the next few week. We need better language for blessing.
Maybe the next time you go through a difficult time and you are hanging by a thread and someone asks you how you are doing, the most appropriate response should be:
I have been very blessed.