It’s not that it is a bad word. And I know lots of people who use it because they genuinely mean it. But for many Christians it has become the go-to phrase when you can’t think of anything else to say. “Oh crap, this person just poured out their heart to me and I don’t know what to say... umm... ‘God bless you!’”
Now I know that sounds harsh, and the truth is that I use the phrase too. But over the last few years I have tried really hard to only use it when I truly mean it and to really think about the context in which I am using it. I will never forget emailing with one of the people who had fired my mom two years ago. We had been good friends at one point, but over the period of a year or so had drifted out of contact. All I remember is the very platonic email that ended with a “Blessings.”
I almost threw my computer across the room.
I read something today though that made me think of the real reason I often wish we could get rid of the word “blessings.”
I have been reading Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics and it chronicles the rise of various heresies in the United States (thought it applies to more places than just there) throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. The last few chapters have touched on ways heresy crept into both the Protestant and Catholic churches during the 1960s-1980s. And that has been fascinating.
But today I got a little angry.
Today I started the chapter on the prosperity gospel.
I have talked before about my frustrations with this particular heresy before. And today I think what hit me the most is that the reason this one makes me so angry is because this one has directly affected me. Much of this was what was preached at me on youth retreats, at youth camps, and yes, sometimes right from the pulpit.
And this is where I come to my reasoning about the word “blessings.” As Douthat puts it, the prosperity gospel is the idea that “God wants nothing more than to shower riches on believers.” This also ties into the word faith or “name it and claim it” belief. Douthat describes the belief behind this being centred around the following idea. He says, “After all, what did Jesus’ career represent if not the triumph of the spiritual over the physical, of divine mind over earthly matter? What was Christian prayer, in the end, but a quest to bring the individual soul into alignment with God’s purposes? ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed,’ Jesus told his disciples, ‘you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.’ Wasn’t this a suggestion that true Christians should be able to bed the universe to their purposes through spiritual exertions alone?”
I still remember being told at a youth camp one summer, “God wants you to have that good parking spot close to the store entrance. You just need to call it forth in Jesus’ name and it is your spot.”
Yup. Cool right (sorry... I will try to stop the sarcasm). I just remember my parents trying to convince me that this was not the way to do things after camp.
Later Douthat goes on to say that the prosperity gospel “preserves orthodox Christianity’s emphasis on prayers, miracles, and divine actions—on a God who loves and cares and intervenes—while avoiding anything too medieval or visceral-seeming... Everyday blessings and ordinary triumphs are the miracles... that promotion, that new car, that long-awaited child or family reconciliation—they’re all instances of divine providence responding to your petitions, and holding up heaven’s end of the bargain Jesus made.”
Now some of this doesn’t sound so bad. Learning to see God’s hand in the little, everyday parts of your life is not a bad thing. There are two things about this that really do frustrate me though.
The first is the idea that all of this is based on our petitions and our prayers. The problem with this is that when we don’t get our healings or our raises, it is because we didn’t pray hard enough, didn’t believe hard enough, didn’t have enough faith. When things don’t go smoothly it is because we aren’t praying enough or aren’t spiritual enough. When we went through cancer with my mom five years ago our family had to struggle with that. Had we made a mistake? Was my mom facing cancer because we didn't have enough faith?
The second is the belief that “blessings” typically mean financial blessings. If you’re serving God then He wants to give you that private jet. That promotion.
This has been a hard year. I have been humbled more than I can ever begin to describe. I have always been able to pay my own way, and this year I had to borrow money from my parents. I almost had to take a change of sequence in my schooling because I didn’t know if I would be able to afford my school. My cousin’s son committed suicide in December. I was rear-ended my first week of school. I have been living in a strange place away from most of my friends, the majority of my family, and four provinces away from Charming who I only get to see once every 2-3 months.
You could tell me all of this happened because I haven’t prayed enough. Or maybe I haven’t been a “good enough Christian.”
But despite this, I would say I am blessed. I have had incredible experiences this year. I had an amazing practicum. I have been able to spend time near my brother and his family. I have a boyfriend who is not just willing to date me while we live so far apart, but takes time for me every day. I have family and friends who talk to me, love me, and walk with me through all of this.
It has been hard, but I would definitely say I am “blessed.”
I suppose this is more of a rant than anything else. But I’m tired of hearing that you need to serve God because then you will be “blessed.” That God wants to give you your “best life now” (I have tried hard not to mention Joel Osteen, one of the major faces of the prosperity gospel, but there you have it) and that having that “best life” means you will have lots of money and your life will run smoothly.
I’m tired of people thinking that if things aren’t going the way they think they should go that means that God doesn’t love them, or they haven’t prayed enough.