What does it Mean to be ‘Blessed’?

In the wake of so much Hurricane talk on social media and in culture more generally, a question has arisen as to what it means to be “blessed.” You’ve no doubt heard someone in your acquaintance respond to a question about their well being with something like, “I’m so blessed.” Or seen a post of Facebook stating that in avoiding flood damage or tornado one is “blessed.” So, what is all this blessing about?

As with many things in the Bible, the word (actually words) used in those ancient texts don’t have explicit analogs in contemporary English. What’s more, the words used for “blessed” in the Old Testament and the New Testament don’t seem to even mean the same thing. The Hebrew word used for blessing (barack) has something to do with kneeling, worship and honor through self-abasement, while the Greek word for blessing (makarios) says more about the benefits of receiving a blessing: happiness, benefit, big-ing-up.

This bit of etymological trivia would certainly explain the peculiarity of the church using both the phrase “The Lord bless and keep you,” and the phrase “Let us bless the Lord,” each seeming to carry a slightly different sense of what it really means “to bless.” But I’m afraid it does little to actually clarify what our Facebook friends have in mind.

My nearest guess is that they certainly have the New Testament Greek meaning in mind. Although etymology alone is not quite enough to make full sense of everything. Recall that God Blessed Abraham and commissioned him and his offspring to be a blessing to others. Thats a lot of scraped knees if you ask me.

At the heart of the question is a deeper wonder, I think, about the fairness and agency of God in the god fortune of individuals. Most of the time, when I read people taking about “being blessed” or “counting their blessings” it sounds a lot to me like they are speaking of their prosperity or of things that might otherwise be consider just plain luck. Either that, or they are publicly reminding themselves to be grateful for what they have in the face of otherwise challenge ing situations. This later interpretation probably deserves a post of its own.

So, it seems that at the heart of our desire to speak about being blessed, or our anxiety about reading about others blessings is that age-old problem of Theodicy – God’s justice. If Harvey showed us Houstonians anything about the nature of the world it is that things like death destruction and displacement are pretty unpredictable. Though the traditionally underserved were less prepared for the storm and ultimately less resilient in dealing with it, they were not statistically any more likely to be affected. Whether one’s home was inundated or not was often a matter of streets, inches and wind patters. Just dumb luck. Can this really have have anything to do with God’s favor? Moreover, even if it did, is a God that plays favorites in this or any other way really the kind of God that we want to bless?

In the Gospel, Jesus makes it pretty clear that Salvation is offered freely to all. That, when it comes to blessing, its really not about luck. Sure, some will realize their blessing sooner than others, others will make greater use of it in this life and still other will only figure it out in the life to come. But none will be denied. Thus, if there is anything in this life that is further from luck than blessing then I dont know what it is. Maybe that’s what we should be talking about on Facebook.

In the end, I think what’s really at stake here is the way in which the things we say and the habits we form can influence what we really believe. No matter what people think thy mean when they first start talking about being “blessed,” – I find it hard to believe that folks actually set out to talk about a God who plays favorites – using the term in this way can subtlely change what we believe until, in the end, our beliefs match our usage. We certainly see this in many and various ways int he virtuous cycles of our lives, we must be on guard against it in more destructive cycles as well.

Have a blessed day!

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