Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is Blessing the Carrot or the Donkey?

(Continued from "Grasping Forward" and "Giving to the Poor: The Two Big Issues.")

God promises blessing.

In the Old Testament God consistently promises to bless Israel’s obedience. This is not only a spiritual sort of blessing. It’s not even necessarily blessings of peace and love among people. God’s promised blessings are those things, but they are also expressly material blessing. Passages like Genesis 24:35-36, Leviticus 26:4-13, and Deuteronomy 28:3-15 point us to a concept of blessing that includes “prosperity and well-being; long life, wealth, peace, good harvests and children” (The Mission of God, 209). These aren’t the blessings we church kids learned about in Sunday school.

This reality about God’s blessing confuses the matter of poverty for me. One might ask, “Well, are they poor because their disobedient?” If that were the case, then we would all be in poverty. Are the wealthy pleasing God that he blesses them? That doesn’t make sense either. We can’t draw straight lines from obedience to blessing. So, let’s set that question aside.

Instead, I have a more basic question. It’s sort of connected. “Why does God bless us?” In other words, “What does God want to accomplish through his blessing?”

Most often, we think of blessing as the reward for our obedience. Obedience is the means. Blessing is the end. Or, “Obedience = Blessing.” The problem we continually run into is that we obey but we don’t receive blessing. Obedience doesn’t equal blessing with any reliability. Finally, we give up obeying because we’re not seeing the benefits.

The question I’m asking moves the blessing from an end to a means. Instead of thinking about blessing as a reward, I wonder if it may be a means to another end. So we have, “Obedience + Blessing = ?” In effect, I’m asking, What if blessing is the means to another end?

What if God withholds his blessing because we believe it is the end and not the means? When we see it as the end, we won’t do anything with it except revel in it. If this isn’t God’s intent when he blesses us, then what is?

Maybe that old adage has the right idea: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” If that’s the case, then it’s vital to figure out what we’re supposed to do with God’s blessing.

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