Last week, you probably saw someone post on social media a neat little article entitled The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying. It’s a Huffpost Religion article and that often means it comes with a mixed bag. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I loved mixed bags. I usually end up agreeing with more than I disagree with. Except in this case. The author, Scott Dannemiller is wrong. Or at least I think he’s wrong.
I clicked on the article assuming I’d see something about tolerance or hypocrisy or legalism. But Dannemiller’s one thing Christians should stop saying is “I’m blessed.” Now, Dannemiller was admittedly splitting semantic hairs. But again, he’s wrong. All the way to the end of the article, he’s wrong.
And with that, I want you to think about this.
A couple weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an article about “writing spaces” and wanted my feedback. The author of the article talked about where she likes to do her best writing and even included a picture of a nice desk set up by a back window overlooking trees and birds and nature stuff. I thought it was a pretty good article, so I responded to my friend about my “writing space” which is a little office behind the attached garage that is nice and isolated from the rest of the house. I can go down there and close the door and turn on my space heater and not be bothered by my five year old yelling at my seven year old or my dog barking at a squirrel or the postman. I really love it.
I started talking about my own little “writing space” and I got real excited about it because after fifteen years of marriage we finally bought a house with a nice office just for me. And then I felt a little guilty. Because not everyone has the chance to buy a house like mine (not that it’s anything special, but still). And not every writer has the chance to carve out a little “writing space.” So, I decided to tag on a little addendum to my message – “I’m blessed.” I wanted my friend to know that I don’t take the fact that I have my own office for granted. And the best way I knew to convey that was to say “I’m blessed to have a house like this.”
Of course Scott Dannemiller would disagree with me on that. The Huffpost article I linked above lays out some good points about why I was wrong to say “I’m blessed.” Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, he’s wrong.
The first point he makes is that saying “I’m blessed” reduces God to a divine wish-granter “randomly bestowing cash and cars” to the faithful few. But this is playing off the assumption that God blesses us as incentive for right living. There’s a certain amount of “Protestant Ethic” at play with that, sure. But that theory has suffered a lot lately. More and more, sociologists are seeing that what people do with their money is more important than what they do to get it. And what they do with it is often influenced by how they view it in the first place. When someone says “I’m blessed” when talking about how much they make, they usually don’t mean “Look at how much God loves me more than anyone else.” There usually follows a sense of gratitude that leads to some benevolent action.
His second point is that saying “I’m blessed” is somehow offensive to those who are less fortunate than us. While the Western World’s focus on material success is often a product of an unbalanced view of God and resources, it’s not completely far off from scripture. Many people like to point out that the famous (or infamous) passage in Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean what people think it means. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” the passage reads. Does that mean I can play professional football, become an actor, run for governor, earn a million dollars…because Christ gives me the strength to do it? Probably not. In fact, the context sort of points to Paul saying, “I’m pretty much desolate here and dependant on others for financial aid, but through Christ’s power I can still accomplish God’s goal for my life.”
But is that what Paul is really saying? Look at Philippians 4:12:
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (emphasis added)
Paul admits to having “plenty” and being blessed with “abundance.” Don’t those help him accomplish God’s goals as well? Wouldn’t he say those are blessings?
Look at another passage of scripture that gets a lot of the “blessed” treatment. When Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, he began with the Beatitudes. He gives a shout out to the audience and says, “You guys are so blessed.” And everyone there probably said, “Really? Me? Blessed?” Because they weren’t rich landowners. They were farmers and peasants, poor and destitute, who brought their sick and dying to Jesus to be healed, looking to him to give them an answer to Roman oppression. And Jesus says, “You guys, you are truly blessed!”
The word for “blessed” there is makarios. There are many different ways to translate it. Most scholars decide on “blessed” as the best way. But I like a couple other ways: Happy and Lucky. Happy seems to indicate that you’re overjoyed by some great happenstance of life. And Jesus is really turning that on its head, because that list? Not really stuff you’d be happy about. And lucky? That’s even better. “You’re persecuted? Lucky you! You’re poor? Lucky you!”
What’s so lucky about that group? Well, they didn’t deserve to be blessed, to be given the kingdom, to have someone pull out a chair and say, “here, you can sit at the table of God now.” But they got it. And that’s grace. And our response to anything we ever own or possess should be similar to our response to grace. We didn’t do anything to earn our standing with God. But we got it. And now we acknowledge it as a blessing and we thank him and we let it spur us on to greater things.
And that leads me to my biggest problem with Dannemiller’s article.
In the last paragraph, after making a big case about how bad it is for us to say “I’m blessed,” the author says that he know says “I’m grateful.” Is there a difference between those two? Isn’t saying “I’m blessed” just saying “I’m nothing special, this was some really great extra for my life”?
So again, the author is splitting some semantic hairs here. But I think in our zeal to denounce a certain teaching that equates godliness with worldly riches, we may be overstepping an opportunity to give God credit for good stuff that happens to us too. It’s okay to be happy and to enjoy your stuff. It’s not okay to think that they somehow make you any special than any other of God’s children. And it’s definitely okay – in fact, I’d say its mandatory – to acknowledge that God is the source of all that, whether your material success is an extra million dollars or a clean pair of shoes.
And I can’t think of a better word to use than “blessed” to describe how God has bestowed that on us.