This issue of The Lookout concentrates on the concept of blessing, one of the most misunderstood concepts in our Christian experience. Of all the words into which our own culture seeps, blessing has to be one of the most waterlogged. The understanding and expectation of the word can be found in its Hebrew and Greek expressions. The Hebrew word barak means to be praised or congratulated. Esher means to be happy. In Greek, makarios means to be happy, joyful, or exuberant. So it stands to reason that whatever provides praise or makes me happy would be a blessing. But much of the biblical narrative paints a far different picture of what blessing really is.
Take Abraham for example. For him, the pathway of blessing meant to leave his entire extended family, his home and familiar surroundings, his culture and his language to adopt a nomadic life. It meant that the one key thing to him, a son, wouldn’t arrive until he was nearly 100 years old, and even then would require a willingness to sacrifice him to God as a burnt offering. It meant that much of what would produce the fruit of blessing would happen after his lifetime. Was this a blessed life?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang about her blessing even as she carried the Savior of the world in her womb. And yet her blessed life meant to be ostracized by her family and community, to be distrusted by her betrothed, to give birth in abject poverty, to flee a decree of death by a hateful king, and to live as a refugee in a foreign land. It meant to watch her firstborn son die brutally in his youthful prime as a blasphemer and enemy of the state. How can the word blessed describe such a life?
When Jesus defined the root and fruit of blessing in the opening words of his Sermon on the Mount, they hardly sounded like things that would be connected to blessing. He spoke about spiritual poverty, about mourning, humility, and hungering and thirsting to be righteous, indicating that we weren’t righteous already. He placed the bar impossibly high with mercy, purity of heart, the blessing of being persecuted, insulted, and being spoken ill of.
The way to understand blessing from a biblical perspective is to understand its terms. Abraham was destined for great things, the greatest of which was to be the father of a people that would produce the solution to the greatest problem of humankind. Everything in his life pointed to that priceless purpose. Most of the mechanics of that purpose were lost on him though, so it was only understood through his faith in God’s Word.
Mary also endured the hardship of her calling, trusting in the God who always makes good on his Word. In retrospect, we can see the blessedness of their lives, but in the moment, it fell far short of what a reasonable human expectation would be. So blessing is something defined by God, not by circumstance or by the moment. It isn’t humanly discerned or culturally wrapped. The blessing of God isn’t natural in nature but supernatural in substance. It transcends time, space, and the immediate context to point us to something greater, nobler, and more consequential than anything we could imagine.