Friday, July 4, 2014

Blessing and Suffering - Part One

There is something about having friends who suddenly abandon their Christian faith that makes a person revisit their own beliefs... That's not to say that I'm questioning my faith (been there, done that, got my feet firmly planted), but that I'm tweaking the way I present it.

But before I get there, I've been thinking about the word “blessing” a lot lately.  It's not a new topic for me, as I've written about it before. It's been written about by others and we've been asked to stop using that word. (I'm sure some of you have read "The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.") We seem to toss it around flippantly without really understanding the word:

“I was blessed to get that job.”
“We're blessed with three kids.”
“What a blessing you are to our family!”
“We've been blessed with so much.”


I don't think it's wrong to attribute physical, tangible things to God. After all, every good and perfect gift comes from the Father (James 1:17). Of course, if you read that verse in context (D'oh!) it's speaking more towards the eternal. But there are verses that speak of physical blessing.

Proverbs 5:18 may make you blush when you read it with the surrounding verses... “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” It's saying that having babies with your wife is a blessing. (Psalm 127:5 says something similar; “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].”) It doesn't get more physical than that!

God, in prophecy to the land of Israel, in Malachi 3:11-12, says that physical prosperity is cause for saying one is blessed. “I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

So it is certainly scriptural to call ourselves blessed when positive, tangible things happen, but it goes beyond that. In fact, as I read through and look at the various ways that the word “blessed” is used, it seems to indicate a God-given joy for the one who is blessed, rather than a feeling of having much.

In all of this pondering, I kept coming back to The Beatitudes. I think that I may have totally misunderstood them over the last 30-some years that I've been reading the Bible. I've been reading and comprehending them backwards.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I always felt that there should be a sense of pride or exultation when the first line of each Beatitude happened to me, because it meant that I was being blessed. As if, somehow, the blessing was in the beat-down. “I am merciful, therefore I am blessed. I get involved in arguments and make peace, therefore I am blessed.”

I had it totally backwards and flat-out wrong!

I'm sure you already know this, but I'm a bit dense at times, so let me write it all out here, just to make sure I've got it straight.

It's actually saying something like:

Even if you have a weak spirit, you will be blessed with the kingdom of heaven.
Even though there will be times of mourning, take heart, because you'll be blessed with comfort.
Even though you are meek, you will be blessed with the inheritance of the earth!
In those times when you feel far from God and are searching for him, you will be blessed with his overflowing spirit.
When you resist the urge to get revenge, you will be blessed with the same mercy you showed others.
When you rid yourself of worldly filth, you will have the blessing of truly seeing God's beauty.
When you make peace and dispel discord, God blesses you by calling you His Child.
In those times when trouble comes to you for doing the right thing, you will be blessed with the kingdom of heaven.
When your faith in Jesus is being assaulted, you are blessed because you are following in the footsteps of the spiritual giants who have gone before you. And, just like them, your reward is in heaven.

Blessed!

So, what are the real blessings here?

Kingdom of heaven
Comfort
Inherit the earth
Filled with God
Shown mercy
Seeing God
Called a child of God
Kingdom of heaven
Reward in heaven.

These blessings have little to do with physical, tangible comfort and more to do with the eternal. (I should note here that inheriting the earth does seem rather physical in nature.)

A scripture that is often misused to say that things will be hunky-dory in this life is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It seems to be saying that followers of God will have good things happen to them in this life. That doesn't line up with the rest of scripture. Jesus tells his disciples that there will be trouble in this world, but to take heart as he has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

When you read Romans 8:28 in context (you'll need to back up to about Romans 8:18 to get some context) you see that it is speaking more to the eternal than the temporal:
v 18 - our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us
v 21 - in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
v 23 – we... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
v 28 - called according to his purpose...
v 29 - to be conformed to the image of his Son
v 30 - those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
v 32 - He who gave [his Son] up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? [Is that “all things” in a physical way, or “all things” in an eternal way?]
V 35 - Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
V 36 - “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

And the big summary at the end of this discourse which says:
v 37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, to summarize so far... Blessing is often used in the Bible to speak of God-given joy, rather than a feeling of getting something from God. But, when the word “blessed” refers to us receiving something, it is often of eternal value, rather than temporal value.  The few times that it is a tangible, temporal, earthly thing, the blessing is still in the God-given joy just as much as it is in the physical gift.

...Which brings me back to the beginning of this discourse.

Read Part Two to read more on how our misuse of the Bible can lead people away from God.


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