Dear Father Joe:
After a disaster, I hear people who were saved talking about how they were ‘blessed.’ Does that mean the people who died were not? Should we be using that word that way?
This is a tough question, because the answer more or less depends on the person's intent when they say it. Let me share with you an incorrect way to use the word “blessed” and then an understanding of it.
Some people use the word blessed to indicate comfort, financial success, etc. This is simply wrong. Having our desires met does not mean we have been favored by God in some special way. Despite what some televangelists would tell you, God does not reward faith with worldly goods or even health.
Church history is full of stories about beautiful and holy men and women who suffered outrageous physical and emotional pain but who considered themselves blessed, because they were sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. Many saints lived in poverty but felt blessed because they were poor, as Jesus was poor. In answer to those televangelists, I can assure you there is no rational or true standard that would look at the life Jesus lived and call it financially successful.
So, if being blessed is not about our circumstances, what is it about? It’s about our attitude, our spiritual state. For example, when my mother died, a number of people came up to me at the funeral to say, “Don’t cry – your mother is with our Lord in heaven.” My response: “I’m not crying for her, I’m crying for me. Because I’ll miss my mother.” Now, don’t get me wrong – I also felt blessed in that moment, because I do know my mother is in heaven, and I know that I am loved by Jesus – and that he was with me in that moment. Remember, tears are not the result of a lack of faith but an abundance of love.
In the New Testament, when you see Jesus say the word “blessed” in your English translation, he is using the word eudaemonia. This is from the Greek for “good” and “spirit” and is often translated as meaning “human flourishing.” Jesus is saying that people of good spirit are blessed. There are long and complicated discussions about this in Greek philosophy as well that talk about blessings coming with virtue. If you’ve got a few days to spare, you can find out more!
Often, when folks say they’ve been “blessed,” they really mean circumstances have occurred that make them happy. Back to the experience of disaster: Certainly, the person who was spared is blessed, but so is the person who lost everything. They may not be happy – because earthly happiness means our circumstances prompted an emotion. Don’t confuse happy and blessed – I would suggest that when you and I say that we are blessed, we should be referring to our inner state. That is, we should be referring to our conviction that we are loved by God, and that, whatever our circumstances or situations, we are confident that Christ will bring victory. We know we are loved and saved by Christ and that this knowledge transcends any pain we may be experiencing. Or, it may be that we are in a place that we are simply striving to fully understand and embrace that conviction. It is then that we are blessed. When you are feeling overwhelmed with grief or pain, you might want to turn to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and his mighty words ringing down through the centuries:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This has given me strength and comfort in adversity – I hope it does for you. Enjoy another day in God’s presence.