The idea of God being a necessarily loving and merciful deity, though my greatest joy, is an exhausting burden for many others. This is simply and inadequately put. To toil to bend one's coursing rapid of thought around it and, what's more, to reconcile it to the dying, desperate world around it is surely a lifelong quest. Seldom is the journey completed. In the midst of this common struggle, which brands our lives, we find a relatively small group of confident, boastful Christians. They've deserted the battle and made a mad dash to the hidden victory flag-pole of whimsical blessedness.
Here's what I mean to say. What I hear frequently from God's army of saints are the many ways in which God is merciful and a blessing to them.
"I wake up every morning with breath in my lungs."
"I have a roof over my head."
"I live in a free country."
"I have a job in a tight economy."
These are examples of God's "blessing" and "mercy" and "faithfulness" to his people, as I am told. The question I am now asking is "Really?" This is a universal question. A question that must be assessed to bring unity to the Church and to bring believers to a proper understanding of what it means to follow Christ. If blessing is ill-defined, the implications can be spiritually catastrophic as is exemplified by countless churches, sects and heretics throughout the history of Christendom.
Re-Evaluating The Definition Of Blessing
Beginning several months ago, I have been reassessing what it means to be blessed. Initially, I examined how the term "blessed" or "blessing" is used and as it turns out we Christians tend to use and, quite frankly, abuse this word a lot. One, almost every day, reads on Facebook or Twitter how so-and-so got a job, gave birth, got married, got promoted, got out of bed, got lucky, got, got, got, and if the account is of a Christian, you'll find the phrase afterwords "God is good" or "God is faithful" or "God is merciful" or "I am so blessed". So, by way of contrast, one can uncover what is really being meant. All one has to do is read what is written on a bad day. So the question I am now asking is "Is God unfaithful and unmerciful if you are fired, aborted, killed, diseased, unlucky, still in bed and are you no longer blessed?"
So what does it mean to be blessed? One can say it is finding love or freedom or something less tangible like that and more fluffy. One can go for the Bad Answer and say success. However, I've resolved that by these two definitions, one has to resort to subjective, physical, human terms. About the former "definition", though God gives an ideal freedom and love, these things, in human hands, can be tainted and twisted into ungodly things. We see everyday how love can cause utter turmoil and how freedom can produce chaos. So things like love and freedom, on their own, aren't necessarily an absolute "blessing". About the latter, success, in every physical sense, is impertinent and meaningfully dead in and of itself. This is why I would be hesitant to say that because I avoided a car crash, I was blessed. Because someone else crashed instead of me. The problem is, conclusively, that the definition of blessing becomes altogether human and quite individualistic.
As Christians, how can physical gain be so regularly equated to blessing from Heaven when we claim to exalt the one who gave up all physical gain? It's strange to me. We so regularly emphasize what God allows us to have in our life. The problem I'm having is why we don't put equal emphasis on what God does not grant us. What does this suggest about the popular perception of God's character? What does this suggest about the way blessing is commonly defined? This is truly problematic. An overemphasis on things that are spiritually neutral can liquefy a person's platform easily by both masquerading the essential meaning of life and leading to a deceptive philosophy that could misrepresent the cause and character of Christ. After all, Jesus was a very successful unsuccessful person. If we want to be like him, then why are we afraid of being successfully unsuccessful also?
A popular punching-bag for ministers and congregates is the grossly popular Health and Wealth Prosperity camp. The likes of Osteen, Dollar, Copeland and Meyer are insistent on physical gain as a basic, essential definition of blessing. Of course, the only way to this conclusion is pure ignorance and deception, among other traits. To redefine what it means to be "favored by God" so extremely and grotesquely, not to mention dogmatically, is to redefine the Gospel message similarly. This extremity is the ultimate implication of an ill definition of blessing. If the measure of God's faithfulness and mercy is restricted to our deliverance from physical abuse and impoverishment, then we have contradicted, in the most basic sense, the meaning of the Gospel and our human existence.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is where the conversation, on what it means to be blessed, begins and ends. The beatitudes edify not the high-up or the worldly wise men. They exhort everyone to be fruitful and pure in spirit. "Blessed is the man..." Who is blessed? The peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, and so on. So, basically, if you want to live a blessed life, here's what Jesus is offering: holiness. Take it or leave it. He doesn't offer free kicks, a nice crib or a Magic Bullet. What Jesus offers, in return for belief, is a sanctified, purified heart by his definition of purity and godliness. This is from the words of Jesus, our savior. He doesn't imply that you will be blessed if you peace-make or are pure. He says you are blessed. Your reward is waiting for you in Heaven.
Jesus's life, from a birds-eye view, contradicts the physical spectrum of blessedness, because he was not a frequent recipient of physical "blessing". Jesus did not make that many friends. At least, he wasn't hugely popular. In fact, if we were to define blessing in physical terms, Jesus was considerably un-blessed. He was scrutinized, mocked, rejected, unemployed and finally tortured and crucified. This trend in his life speaks for itself. Physical wealth is of little meaning to God.
Another man, who I pity because he is so frequently misunderstood, is Paul, the renowned missionary of God's appointment. His life was often, in a sense, hermitic and largely under the weight of persecution. His success was nil if it were quantified materialistically, similar to Jesus's life. The oft misquoted Philippians 4:13, when taken in context, actually speaks enormously about what ought to be counted as rewarding in life. Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV):
... I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.What does Paul's testimony suggest about the reality of pleasure and poverty? Did it matter to him whether he suffered or not? Basically, it doesn't matter if we have lots of stuff or no stuff at all, because we have Jesus. Point, blank.
If one takes blessing and converts its meaning into strictly spiritual terms, what does one get? The answer, in my mind, is what matters in light of eternity: salvation and the possible renewal of our heart and spirit. God so evidently in scripture, and from experience, prioritizes our character and identity in Christ over our resume or our income. This is the only way the Gospel can be the Good News it professes. This is the only way the Scripture can remain consistent. This is the only way a loving God can be reconciled with a world filled with sufferers and thieves. It is the only way for the cross of Jesus Christ to remain pedestalled. It is the only way death can be a joyful event in spite of all its tragic properties. The camp that would assert the message of Creflo Dollar or Joyce Meyer or any other hardline Word of Faith materialism is a camp that, by blindness or intention, would dismantle all of this - what the apostles and martyrs stood, suffered and died for. They would opt to discombobulate consumerist congregations and diffuse the potency, adequacy and life-providence of Jesus's mission which every attentive individual knows is already accomplished in the life of his true bride - dead sinners turned into living family members, not failures turned into accomplished merchants.
Now it is not wrong to enjoy things, but I believe the key is in the balance which, by the way, I do not believe is in a "fifty-fifty split". The idea of Jesus being the one and only true blessing must dominate our life. It must gush out of our hearts, seep into our minds and well over into our outward actions. There is a spectrum of definitions which can be separated into physical and spiritual. Our spiritual definition of what it means to be blessed must over-arch our physical passions including professional, sexual, and habitual endeavors. We can consider the physical pleasures of life a blessing and, in a sense, an act of God's mercy, but always while kept under the piercing gaze of God's redemptive and vengeful light. This is what I meant by balance. It is important to keep things in perspective.
Just to further clarify my last point, let me describe a fictitious scenario. Pretend that you are married. You have a wife or a husband. Now, let's say you have another friend of the same gender you are physically attracted to. If you were to meet with this friend, along with your husband or wife, you can enjoy your friends presence, talk with that person, enjoy them. Your partner would be there and there would be no question you remained faithful to your partner, while still enjoying communion with your friend. Now, if you were to get together with your friend, whom you could theoretically be attracted to, while your partner was someplace else (out of sight), the likelihood of you cheating on your husband or wife increases immediately. Whereas, if you were to hang out with your friend with your partner present in your mind, in your thoughts as a reminder to keep to your vows, then the odds of unfaithfulness are virtually zero. Though the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do, I sincerely hope it serves the purpose of exhorting individuals to always remain faithful to God's higher purpose while enjoying earthly pleasures.
Ready, Fire, Aim
The possibility of error increases rather steeply, to me, when we haven't a clue what we're after. This is the hope I have for my readers, that they would shape their desires after God's. The desires of many are the superficial tangibles. The desires of many are the intangible ideals, which are not necessarily bad. God's desire for everyone, whether we read the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels or the Epistles, is clear as day. God's desire is that we would strive after holiness above all the other vain and meaningless ambitions. All other purposes sway and break down under the gale of God's call for personal, spiritual renewal.
Indeed, no other blessing is as adequate and fulfilling as our hope and communion with Jesus.