The Problem With Blessing

Google the phrase “Is America blessed by God?” and you will be blessed in .29 seconds to have over 24 million results.


This is a strongly held opinion in the United States. In a 2008 survey conducted for the PBS news program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and the United Nations Foundation 61% of 1400 respondents said America was “specially blessed” by God.

Writers and scholars far more articulate and learned than me have diced this idea and penned a plethora of articles on both sides of the argument, some that I will link to at the end of this article.

But here is my struggle. Too often we talk about both individual and collective ‘blessing’ in material and military terms. We use the book of Deuteronomy as our guide and neglect the Beatitudes in Matthew.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000?

5641-God Bless AmericaMilitary: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize that Jesus again excels in turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing –not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I want to scream: “Are we through yet?” No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments – none of these are included.

The struggle intensifies as I consider the idea that I as a Christian now living in America would be considered more ‘blessed’ than my Pakistani friends who claim Christ. This is unpalatable to me. The idea that a Christian living in a Pakistani village in a one room mud hut, one light bulb hanging on a string providing electricity for 4 hours of a 24 hour day, four children to provide for, and unable to read is less blessed than I am makes bile rise in my throat.

Because it’s false. A Biblical world-view tells me that all are created in the image of God – Imago Deiblessed by God for no other reason but that we are created in His image. And if I believe the words of Matthew then my Christian friend in Pakistan is far more blessed than I

I’ll put my idiomatic cards on the table: I do not believe it is Biblical to say that America is blessed because of a strong military and material wealth. I believe that this is making the military and money into idols, something that is strongly condemned in the Bible. To quote William Doino Jr. from an article in First Things:

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”

The problem with blessing is the meaning we currently ascribe to the word and the misuse of the word. Many continue to hold to primarily Old Testament meanings on prosperity and military success. The New Testament turned all that around and we are given a new picture of blessing, a picture that is spiritual rather than material. A picture that offers grace, and that in abundance, to all people of all times. Would that we recognize a Gospel of Grace and proclaim that as the one, true, never-failing, all-encompassing Blessing.

Blogger’s Note: So, this is a huge subject and it is ridiculous to think that a few more than 600 words can do it justice. But it’s been on my mind and heart and as always I have faith in you as readers, in your wisdom and insight; your ability to offer thoughtful comments and recognize the need for further study and discussion.

On that note here are some of the articles I mentioned above:

27 thoughts on “The Problem With Blessing

  1. Pingback: conardsinafrica
  2. Speaking as a woman,
    the United States is a good place to live.
    I can not even speculate which
    people in the world are blessed,
    or which area of the world might blessed.
    But, i would guess
    that most of us would have no clue,
    even if we thought we knew.


  3. Thank you for this article. I have had similar thoughts, and being from the deep south, the word “blessed” pops up in casual conversation all the time. I have been guilty of uttering this word in the wrong context until I read an article a while back that made me realize the true meaning of blessing. For the things that at one time I may have said were a blessing, I now say things like “I am grateful for . . . ” It quickens my heart toward contentment instead of some special privilege that “blessing” can imply.

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  4. Great post. Marilyn.

    When translating the Beatitudes for myself some time ago I realised that the Greek grammar allows, maybe even calls for, a slightly different emphasis than we usually see. Instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” it can/should read “It is the poor in spirit who are the blessed ones”. That makes it seem much more like Jesus was actually implying: “You think it is the rich and powerful who are blessed, but in fact it is the poor in spirit who are!” –Very much the point you make.


  5. God blesses THOSE WHO ARE Matthew 5 (poor in spirit, meek, merciful and persecuted are blessed; Luke 14:13 (invite the poor/lame to their banquets are blessed; Mark 10:16 (children are blessed); Luke 11:28 (hear and obey the Word of God are blessed); Luke 7:23 (do no fall away are blessed); Revelation 19:9 (invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb are blessed).
    In order to receive God’s blessings, we need to TRUST in Christ and grow to be like him.
    Marilyn, thank you for this post.


    1. Actually – I think you could have done a better job :) And that’s not false modesty. This is an area that can be crazy-making. I think it deserves way more but a blog isn’t the space to go wordier :) So thank you for your words.


  6. Joan Baez song “God On Our Side” is as relevant now as it was in the sixties. You can listen to it on youtube.
    It’s people like you, Marion, who give us, non citizens of the US, hope for the US. That the US should be specially blessed is ridiculous, and minimises the value and values of others. Thank you so much for your post.
    As an aside, people here in New Zealand, particularly in business and politics, refer not to the US or the United States. It has been pointed out to me by people from South America, and by the media here, and is taught in schools here that America is a continent consisting of North America (Canada and the United States), Central America, and South America.


      1. Excellent point, Denny. After we moved to South America, I was informed by my language teacher that I should say, “Soy estadounidense,” (I’m United Statesian) rather than “Soy americana” (I’m American). Okay, the translation doesn’t exactly work in English as we have no adjective form of “the United States,” but the idea was the same — America is a continent (2 continents, actually), not a country.


    1. Such a good point about the U.S. Denny. Whenever I list citizenship I never say American but US citizen. After I read your comment I thought back to all the articles and speeches I had linked and realized we use “American” all the time from presidents to policies. I appreciate your words “minimizes the value and values of others”. It also takes subtle and dangerous root in our minds – it’s like a weed and the next thing you know the “America is best” creeps in and destroys perspective. Thank you for your comment!


  7. Well said, Marilyn. And as you listed those who might not be considered blessed by world standards, you didn’t even touch topics such as losing a child at 10 months after a diagnosis of a disease that cannot be cured; this family (and others like them) would say they were blessed by the 10 months of knowing sweet Charlotte…and what about those who say they are ‘blessed’ b/c their children are committed to the Lord and being His followers; does this discount those whose children may NOT love the Lord; are those parents NOT-blessed by God; what about my dear Christian friends whose daughter has chosen the lifestyle of homosexuality…are they not blessed? I’m no theologian and I’m very sure I do not have it even remotely figured out but I know that anything (considered) good by the world’s standards comes only because of God’s grace and NOT because I have done something to deserve the ‘blessing’. I recently was diagnosed with melanoma but it was in situ (meaning only surface/no lymph nodes or metastasized involved)…so my hubby and I wonder….am I ‘blessed’ b/c I have cancer that has not spread and can be cut out? What about my friend who died at age 48 b/c of 2nd-hand smoke lung cancer, leaving behind a grieving widow and 3 children not to mention dear family and friends…was he NOT blessed? ‘Blessed’ is a word I try to steer away from…It says in Job 2:10 “He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?’ Remember Job fell down in worship and said (among other things), “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21) (and I’m not even going to touch on whether God ‘sends’/’allows’ trouble in our lives….I’ll let you cover that minefield on another day :-/ )

    Little Gumnut said it well : “I wonder if we get too caught up in trying to define what blessing looks like and deciding whether we are blessed or not compared to others. I hope that as we grow we can find peace, contentment and happiness (blessing) in whatever God gives us”

    To me being ‘blessed’ means finding my contentment in the Lord…we MUST find our contentment in Jesus, only.


    1. Yes and Yes – I’ve thought about these things so much. The ‘blessing’ of ‘good’ kids. It hurts so much when you don’t fall into that box. And when you have to defend being an outsider of that box. But it’s true – it is a minefield so I will tread carefully but your comment has offered much wisdom to get started. And your final sentence says it all and is echoed beautifully by Petra above and Little Gumnut below.


  8. “A Biblical world-view tells me that all are created in the image of God – Imago Dei – blessed by God for no other reason but that we are created in His image.” Because of this, and we are reluctant to admit it, it seems to me that a person is blessed even apart from faith, perhaps without ever knowing it–or perhaps without ever knowing the source of the blessing. The Matthew passage makes it clear that godly traits like a pure, meek and peaceful spirit make one more likely to be spiritually in tune and receptive to the blessing by which they came into this life.


    1. Yes – I think that heightened awareness of blessing and grace. And I think you’re right – there’s that blessing regardless of whether we acknowledge it. Perhaps though, we’re blinded to blessing until we actually acknowledge the source. Lots to think about – thank you for continuing the conversation.


  9. I love the thought that wherever we are, whomever we are, whatever we have or have not, a follower of Jesus can read that text and know the reality that we are blessed in whatever circumstance, country or place we are in. I wonder if we get too caught up in trying to define what blessing looks like and deciding whether we are blessed or not compared to others. I hope that as we grow we can find peace, contentment and happiness (blessing) in whatever God gives us. A poor response to a complicated issue I guess.

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  10. This is one of the topics I most struggle with when speaking to Americans who have never lived abroad and egocentrically believe that this is the best country in the world. Or worse, fear the foreign places. Every country has its good and its bad. The bottom line is that as human beings, we are more alike than we are different, no matter where we live. You have stepped out bravely with this one, Marilyn, but it needed to be said. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to meet, truly meet – one on one, talk from the heart, look into each other’s eyes and see the person within – someone from another culture and religion. It changes everything.


    1. Yes.yes.yes – me too. It makes me crazy. and you’re right, it’s the talking with the heart and seeing with the eyes that changes all of it. Thank you Stacy.


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