In a heavily burdened, disconnected, ‘selfie-based’ generation more and more people are feeling a sense of hopelessness at the amount of problems that exist around them. Not only have difficulties increased in our time, but our awareness of the difficulties has also increased thanks to the explosion of the information age. In response to the overload of negative information people have increasingly resorted to their own sense of individualism as the answer. Basic social elements of humanity like family, work, corporate identity, masculinity, femininity, marriage, children, and even humans themselves are less perceived as blessings and increasingly cast into the direction of cursing. Most of us are probably uncertain as to what the term blessed even means. We mostly just use the word for when someone heaves snot out of their nose at a hundred miles per hour. Some might see it as little more than a wishful bestowal of luck or just the evolution of the charms of paganism. At best, the word blessing is understood as something of the religious domain and reserved for religious pronouncements by your local priest. However, as irrelevant and arbitrary as it might sound, the original concept of blessing had a meaning very different from what many of us may have known.
The term began to take its present form during the days of Abram as recorded in the book of Genesis. There, in Genesis 12:1-2, God is seen speaking to Abram telling him to leave his home while giving him the promise, “I will bless you, I will make your name great.” It was not a promise of happiness but one of favor. If all it meant was happiness then presumably God would have just had Abram remain where he was and grow fat. Instead the story shows a plan at work. The plan involved departure, movement, progress, and a goal. And plenty of pain along the way. Abram was to leave his home country and go into uncharted territory. Unhappiness was inevitable but Abram’s happiness was not the plan. God was doing something for himself and he wanted Abram to be a part of it. Most deistic faiths believe this one thing about whatever god they believe in—that divine power performs all things for its own pleasure—and the Hebrews were certainly no exception. In the Psalms their beloved King David wrote, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”
But the Lord was not showing himself as a selfish deity in the story of Abram. He never forced himself upon Abram’s life nor was He unconcerned about whether Abram was happy or not. To show himself good, he set forth an offer and let Abram make the choice. “Go, and I will bless you. I will show you favor.” To have the favor of God was to be blessed. Cursedness was considered to be the opposite—God turning his face away. When taken in this sense, the idea of blessedness takes on a whole new meaning. One can be in the depths of ruin and torment and yet be blessed because he is being taken somewhere by a higher power. He (and everyone else) may not see or understand but on the invisible side of the situation there is blessing written all over it. This may have been best exemplified in the life of Joseph as recorded later on in the book of Genesis. Joseph was an innocent kid who had ten brothers who hated him, wanted to murder him, took him away from his father, threw him into a pit, and finally sold him as a slave to the Pharaoh of Egypt. What an awful life. There Joseph was—understandably—agitated almost to the point of despair and crying out, “Everything is against me!”
And who of us would disagree with that? But according to the story God was in fact blessing him with an unprecedented amount of favor for he was on his way to becoming the ruler of Egypt where he would store up grain, feed the people of the land during a great famine, and reunite with his father and repentant brothers. Talk about blessing! And that’s the way it is. You don’t see it coming. No one ever does.
Nature itself is a blessing. In my short existence I have observed an unmistakable reality in nature. It is an unchanging benevolence throughout the material world that always seems to hint at its own existence. You can never get away from it. It is all around you. It hints at itself by way of its own progress. This progress seems to follow distinct plans and always has the same purpose at all times in all places—to birth, grow, give, and replicate. A tree cut down to its stump will not cease to follow this path. Hindrance means nothing to the stump’s sense of progress. The flower must follow a course of rising toward the sun and changing water, light, and soil into a specific design. When it has run its course and has blessed the world around it with its color, shape, fragrance, and taste it then reproduces itself. It never does anything other than this. It never strays from its course. As Heraclitus in the ancient West and Lao Tzu of the ancient East observed, all things mean to flow in a distinct direction towards benevolence—towards blessing.
Creation gives selflessly. It gives me hope that I too, as an inherent part of it, have a particular plan and purpose to be blessed and to bless. But I find there is a catch. I have a free will that forces me to choose between good and bad in every situation and decision I am ever confronted with. I can do no other. As babes, we don’t exactly have this free-will but at just the right time in our growth this gift is released within us, and then we begin the real journey. Initially we are not held accountable or responsible for what our free-will produces because it is so prone to mistakes and knowledge is absent. With learning and practice, we will gain control of our will, and hopefully, use it for good. Knowledge is obviously very important in this regard, for very soon, whether we are ready or not, we are held accountable and responsible for our choices and decisions. At times this feels like a cursed thing to me because too often I feel I choose the bad or wrong things, and too often I feel I don’t know the good and right things. But ultimately, I know this must be a gift and a blessing, for it allows us to have, and grow, in the gift of knowledge. I do not believe that there is any such thing as right or wrong knowledge, but that there is only knowledge, and knowledge is gained in the process of making right and wrong choices. You will always know if a particular choice was right or wrong sooner or later. You may be taught or told what the right and good choices in life are, but even if you’re not or they’re incorrect, at some point the benevolent flow of things will always, without fail, show you. Humanity’s wrong choices are always realized sooner or later. Creation itself is constantly speaking to us, perhaps more loudly than ever, of our wrong choices that we have made in the way we have dealt with it.
Choices and decisions have consequences. And because there are consequences, I therefore have responsibility and duty. And if there is responsibility and duty then there must be some kind of obedience. But it is there that I have always found my greatest difficulty.
My experience with learning how to use my will and how to control my desires has always led me back to one simple realization: pursuing contrived plans of my own creation is a recipe for striving, unrest, disappointments, and upset. Is a great achievement really worth a lifetime of unrest and disappointment? For someone else, perhaps. But not for you. Society shifts and stumbles like a weightless object on quaking sand, leaving a crooked and directionless wake in its path when it comes to defining true blessing. In the world of man, a blessing today will be a curse tomorrow. How tiresome to keep up with it! And what is success? If the blessed life is defined in terms of success then success must be about that which is beyond what our own will and minds can create and about that which is common to all humans, otherwise the vast majority of humans are cursed.
But if God has a plan for everyone then everyone is meant to go somewhere or to move towards something. The problem, of course, is seeing the plan. I am not very perceptible. My vision into the deeper, unchanging purposes of mankind is quite shallow. Seeing into my own personal design and plan is even more difficult and even discouraging at times. I have often felt like my life was not so blessed or had little point. I would feel like there was no color, no delightful appearance, no fragrance; only a dead end of nature. But I have been privileged to gain the knowledge that this notion was completely contrary to all reason, for life and nature in itself is a deeply profound and beautiful thing.
When afflictions and evil are abundant I find my vision is skewed. I can’t see. I forget everything. Like the lesson of Peter on the water with Jesus, when you forget and focus on the problem, you begin to sink. Or the lesson of Joseph who felt like everything—everything—was against him. I have learned that blessing and identity go hand in hand. Favor from God runs deep. Until we know who we are, we will never know how blessed we are. And until we know how blessed we are, we will never know our true potential to bless the world.