“god bless you!”: what is blessing?
So what does it mean to be “blessed” in a biblical sense?
Some people understand it to mean something like good fortune.
Others see blessing as referring to material wealth, as in some strands of contemporary Christianity.
Some Christians think blessing refers to God’s favour, and this can be understood in a great number of ways (including material wealth as above).
For others blessing is almost a physical thing to be passed on (as with some understandings of the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau).
I have constantly wondered what blessing is. Often I have heard blessing being likened to receiving material wants (and not needs), though I suspect that this is not an ancient Hebrew view. Nor does such a view fit, in my view, with the Beatitudes.
(…surely “Blessed are the poor” means more than “The poor will get all the material wealth they want!”)
If you were to look for blessing in the Bible one of the most obvious places to look would be Genesis – it seems as if blessing is a constant feature in the first book of the Bible.
Blessing (the barak word family in Hebrew) occurs in chapter 1:
And God blessed them, saying, ”Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (v.22)
And God blessed them. And God said to them, ”Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (v.28)
Here is seems that blessing by God results in life as intended by God in his creative act, such as in Eden. If so, we might take cursing as being the opposite of blessing. Genesis 3 results in such an opposite; the serpent is cursed, as is the ground, and in being cursed they do not exhibit the life God intended.
Could cursing, perhaps the opposite of blessing, be simply life lived outside of the purposes of God, the opposite of abundant life?
Abraham, in Genesis 12, is called to by God to:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Is God calling Abraham to live life within the purposes of God, and to manifest this life amongst all the families of the earth? In other words, God calls Abraham to begin the mission of bringing the life experienced in Eden to all people.
This conclusion requires more work to confirm of course.
The Abraham story also raises all sorts of other questions in addition to what “blessing” might be.
What does it mean for God to “bless” someone or some people? Or to curse them? Is this such blessing/cursing:
- Active (God’s action of blessing/cursing affects an actual change), or
- Declarative (God’s blessing declares something that already exists)?
I have a lot of questions, though it seems to at least make sense that blessing in the Abrahamic context could refer to life to the full, the opposite of life experienced as a result of the dislocation experienced in Genesis 3.
Such a view would make sense in the context of the Beatitudes – Jesus promising life to the full for the poor and marginalised is very much consistent with his overall ministry.
In any case I would be the first to point out that the present article is a vastly deficient look at the subject of blessing.
So… I wonder what you think about this. Is blessing (and cursing) active or declarative? What do different biblical traditions have to say on the subject?
I look forward to your thoughts.