It’s sort of an unspoken rule that good Christians refrain from using the word “luck” when describing happy circumstances. By far the more spiritual word is “blessed,” for it connotes divine intervention by God as opposed to mere chance.
So when you reflect on ten years of happy marriage, you are supposed to say that you are “blessed” to have a loving and supportive spouse. When you eat a particularly delicious homemade meal, you are supposed to say that you are “blessed” to have more than enough food to eat, especially when so many around the world suffer from hunger. When your church successfully raises enough money to build a new facility, you are supposed to say that God “blessed” the congregation with a fruitful capital campaign. When you arrive at the Krispy Kreme just in time to eat the last hot doughnut, you exclaim, “Aren’t I luck…I mean, blessed…to have arrived just in time!”
Although I know these rules, and generally try to play by them, the word “blessed” has always bothered me a little. For some reason, I feel like calling myself “blessed” sends the message that I have somehow earned God’s special favor, that God is rewarding me for good behavior, and that the millions of people who suffer from war, famine, poverty, and sickness because they weren’t lucky (or blessed or fortunate) enough to be born in the wealthiest nation in the world are simply not as loved by God.
In other words, if God has divinely intervened within human affairs in order to “bless” Alabama running back Mark Ingram with a particularly good game on Saturday, what does that say about the family of refugees in Uganda who beg God for just enough food to get through the day…but to no avail? Why would God “bless” me with a wonderful husband, a book deal, and a 1500-square-foot house, while allowing little girls to be sold into sex slavery and little boys forced into armies? Am I more worthy of God’s special attention? Have I sinned less than my brothers and sisters around the world?
For many years, the dichotomy between the world’s rich and poor, (complicated by the use of the word “blessing” to describe everything from daily bread to Krispy Kreme), raised serious doubts about God’s goodness in my mind. In fact, I found myself using the word “luck” more often, simply because I would rather dumb, meaningless luck be the cause of such injustice than God.
I even struggled with it recently, when a pastor criticized me for concluding an open letter to the LGBTQ Community with “May God bless you all richly.” (I was thinking of blessings like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.) Gays and lesbians did not deserve God’s blessings, he argued, because they were living in sin.
I couldn’t help but wonder, “So does God only bless those who do not sin?” “Are God’s blessings earned?”
The whole quandary really reached a climax when I visited India, where I spent enough time with orphans, widows, and AIDS patients to realize that Americans have a skewed view of blessings. I write two chapters about the experience in my book, concluding:
“I couldn’t quite piece it together at the time, but in India I began to suspect that perhaps the problem lies not in God’s goodness, but in how we measure it. Laxmi and Kanakaraju and the women and children at the AIDS ministry, they prayed for basic things—food, shelter, health, peace—and they did not always receive. Yet I saw in their eyes the kind of joy and spiritual connectedness that most Christians I know long for. They spoke of Jesus like one speaks of an intimate friend or lover, as if they had just returned from a long walk by his side, their faces still flush from the movement, their breathing still labored from trying to keep up. The children, though robbed of much of their childhood, showed no sense of entitlement. The women, though burdened, displayed unfailing strength…Maybe we aren’t the lucky ones after all.”
Jesus Himself turned the idea of “blessing” on it head, teaching:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep (Luke 6:20-21; 24-25).
Perhaps wealth and privilege and hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts should not immediately be taken as signs of God’s blessings after all.
...And yet I still use the word to describe everything from my career to my furniture. Why? Because it sounds more spiritual than “luck”…and because describing such things as “potential curses because of their tendency to be idolized”makes me sound (and feel) ungrateful.
So, do you use the word “blessing” or the word “luck”? What are the potential hazards of each? What constitutes a blessing? How can we know that the good things in our life are from God? How can we show grattitude without coming across as arrogant or entitled?