God Bless You?

Dios le bendiga. Amen!
In pretty much all of Latin America you’ll hear people greeting each other with this phrase followed by a hearty amen. It’s common both among church folk and the non-churched–in fact it’s usually the first and last thing  you’ll hear a preacher say in a sermon, but it’s also used as a greeting by drunks who run into an old friend as they are drinking away their families rent money for the month. I used to think it was yet another gospel-confusing ploy of the Health and Wealth wackjobs, but you also hear it from the most staunch theologian. Honestly, the whole thing makes me sick.

When we were living in the States–a time frame of my life that takes up 32 of my 34 years on this earth yet seems like a distant memory that is fading much like the body of Marty McFly in his current day picture of himself as he tries to insure his parents get married (Back to the Future reference), I often wondered why people used the word “blessed” when attempting to speak humbly about how much money they make. God has really blessed us this year. I never understood it. It’s the same here. Why are we so often telling people to be “blessed” by God? Am I wrong or is the bible pretty clear on blessing?

Biblically speaking, the word bless or blessed or blessing is used a lot, like a lot a lot, over 400 times a lot so it would stand to reason that this could be a fantastic salutation for us to use. The problem is, many of the key passages that these blessings are used in the Old Testament and nearly all the uses in the New Testament refer to the blessings we have In Christ, if indeed we are in Christ. Just make a list of the super heroes in the New Testament and see if Blessed is the word you would use to describe their lives:

  • John the Baptist, the greatest man born of woman so said Jesus: John was so poor that he couldn’t afford proper clothes so made some out of stinky goat hair. He didn’t want to spend money on food so he ate bugs and honey. He didn’t have the cash to rent an apartment so he slept outside in the desert. I once heard J the B described by a pastor as “Jesus’ weird cousin no one talks about” and that description works really well.
  • Peter, James, and John, the inner three disciples of Jesus. These three poor fisherman all saw a fairly gruesome death. James was put to death by the sword, Peter was crucified upside-down, and John was abandoned on an island to die a lonely death.
  • Paul. Let’s let Paul speak for himself on the Blessings he received from God. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, the great blessed Paul testimony of blessings is that he had “far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
  • Jesus. Jesus was rejected by his brothers, left to be murdered by his friends and followers, and killed on a cross made of the wood from a tree he probably remembered creating, by the very people he created and whose sins he was dying for.

These men were blessed. I wonder though, is this what we mean when we talk about blessing? So what we’re really left with is the OT references to blessing.

In the OT, the bulk majority of blessing refers to money or lands or slaves or children or other earthly possessions that people received. This seems to work really well with the our current view of blessing or bendiciones if you habla espanol. I would submit that these Blessings which are a different word (ashar) than the Blessing that foretold about a Messiah who would bring an end to the separation of sinful man to a righteous God (Bĕrakah). These “blessings” may be better understood as well wishes, well wishes which the NT knows nothing about.

I recently helped a friend move from our little town to the big city and we had ample time to talk about a myriad of topics, one of which was what, exactly, do you guys mean when you say, Dios le bendiga. At first she thought I simply didn’t understand the Spanish, but when I explained that I was after what sort of blessing are you calling down, she admitted that it’s simply a way to say hello (ashar) rather than a calling down of unmerited grace (Bĕrakah). My friends forthrightness notwithstanding, I wonder if we don’t do this sort of thing too, I wonder if we don’t take the big picture of the bible and try to delude it with sillinesses that confuse the central themes of the good news of Jesus. The bible, while a fairly big and extensive book, is really all about one thing with one main character: A good God making a way for his own to be able to come to Him. Maybe we should re-look at the words we use or how we invoke the name of God. Maybe our lives should be centered around what the bible is centered around.