A blog posted yesterday at the Huffington Post has been making the rounds among my Christian friends on Twitter and Facebook.
It was written by writer and former Presbyterian missionary Scott Dannemiller. In it he makes the case that Christians should not refer to their material wealth and possessions as “blessings” because of the implied meaning for those who do not share in their bounty. He cites the Beatitudes in making his case that God’s true blessings are found in suffering. It’s a thoughtful and challenging piece, one that I recommend reading.
While I agree with his basic principle, particularly as it pertains to the church in America, I do think he’s doing a little “proof texting.”
While the word “blessed” is applied to those who suffer in various ways throughout the beatitudes, it doesn’t paint the full picture of the use of that term throughout all of Scripture.
Throughout much of the Old Testament prosperity, material wealth, abundant crops, owning lots of land, and having many children were synonymous with having been “blessed” by God.
1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
5 May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.” - Psalm 128
Even at times in the New Testament the word “blessing” is equated with material wealth.
26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. - Romans 15
So while it may seem “plain as day” to this writer because it’s in the “red letters,” if we’re going to try to understand the full nature of God we need to look at the whole picture.
Do I believe children living in mud huts in developing countries are under God’s wrath or somehow out of God’s favor because of their poverty? No. Nor does that mean that our house is not a blessing to my family.
If we follow the writer’s logic a bit further out we might be tempted to forbid anyone from considering their children a blessing, because it implies that couples who can’t have children are not blessed by God. They may not have been blessed by God in this way, but my children are indeed a blessing to my wife and I.
If the poor and suffering truly are “blessed,” and that’s the only way that word is meant, wouldn’t we deny them that blessing by doing things like providing relief, helping build up their infrastructure, digging wells, etc? Of course not. I think you would agree that’s missing the point.
I think the danger is having the pendulum swing too far one way or the other. If we get too nutty about “blessings” meaning “material wealth” and make it our pursuit, we’re going to be missing God’s point along the way and heading for some dangerous waters with our theology. If we swing too far the other way, and forsake any material wealth or comfort as God’s “blessing,” we run the risk of denying our Father “who knows how to give good gifts” the praise and glory He deserves.
Perhaps there’s a balance to be found.