I’m old enough to remember them before the first scandal. Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker were hard to miss because they appeared daily on their popular christian television show, the PTL Club.
I would give Tammy a solid ‘C’ as a singer but she was better known for a recurring theme song. It is so oddly memorable that when it comes to mind it can still form a musical loop in the back of my brain for the rest of the day.¹ The chorus of the song repeats the phrase “we are blessed” nine consecutive times and, if memory serves, it was generously repeated again to end the song.
I was never sure if she was singing about how we christians are blessed, or if she meant the royal we, because she and Jim were doing okay at the time. At any rate, the message was fairly straightforward … we are blessed.
It was a beautiful summer day. Cheryl and I sipped mid-morning coffee as we sat looking out on the dappled sunshine and shadows falling across the front lawn. The high humidity of the previous week had given way to tepid temperatures that at once warmed our bones and cooled our skin.
As often happens in these feel-good moments, one of us observed, “God has been so good to us.” True. We almost always follow those words with the next consideration, “I haven’t done anything to deserve it.” Equally true.
In our lives we have both experienced hard work, stress, no money, radical change, and the most devastating losses. We are imperfect, broken, scarred.
And yet we are blessed.
Like most of you, we had just watched the last allied plane lift off from the Kabul airport. Before further diplomacy could take effect the Taliban had already started retribution killings, among them a folk singer, a journalist, and a mother of four. Most women in Afghanistan had retreated into their houses and christians had gone into hiding for their own safety.
As Cheryl and I sat together that morning she recalled something that had stuck in her mind from the events in Afghanistan: the image of a woman, alone in a doorway, whose entire family had just been killed. As she described the sad scene it prompted her to ask, “Yes God has been good, but why us?”
Why indeed. What have we done to have the comfort, privileges, opportunities, freedoms we have? Why do we live in a safe part of the world when most others live in constant fear and danger? How have I earned a loving family, a home, health care, freedom?
We haven’t earned anything, but yes we are blessed.
I can hear the usual christian answers:
You are blessed because you’ve been serving God. (Poor, martyred christians serve God much better than I do.)
You have it good because our forefathers fought and died for our nation. (Yes, and other forefathers fought and died too.)
The generations before us worked hard to forge a new life. (Hard work is not unique to first world people.)
The older generations prayed for you. (Thanks, but other people love their children and pray for them too.)
You’re blessed because you sent us that seed money! (No I didn’t.)
When christians concoct reasons why they have God’s blessings, they are ignoring the real circumstances of most christians in history. Poverty, pain, death, etc. have always been familiar to christians and we are no more deserving than they.
Was God in the events of the Twin Towers on 9-11? No but also yes. And think about it – in every war there have been christians killing fellow christians on the other side. Which are the blessed ones?
Jesus put his voice to the issue when he offered that God, “… gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”²
Blessings aren’t earned, they are received.
Yet there are times when God is undeniably present and accounted for. Cheryl and I agree that there is no doubt God has been with us through our lives. We can look back now on the peaks and valleys and agree with certainty that we have been divinely cared for.
In other words, I don’t know who gets blessed, how they get blessed, or why they get blessed. And neither do you. To say otherwise is thoughtless and patronizing. Our fortunate circumstances come down to a puzzling stew of sacrifice, privilege, random luck, and the mysterious grace of God.
That’s the mystery of the Cross: blessings are not always immediate or tangible, and sometimes we never quite see them fully.
We are blessed in and through any circumstances.
One day a couple of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road chatting and exchanging theories as to what the latest rumours meant. At some point they are joined by a man who is curious about the subject of their discussion. They recount the story that the entire city has been talking about: the man Jesus was crucified three days ago but has been reported to be alive again.
They invite him to join them for dinner and at some later point in the evening “their eyes were opened” and they realized this man was Jesus himself!
“They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” – Lk 24:32-34, NIV
When we recognize that the Eternal One is with us, it opens our eyes and thrills our souls. If you stop and think about it, the friendship of God is the only blessing we need.
We are blessed when we know that we are personally loved.
In the end, I don’t have a slick answer as to who gets blessed or why. It may well be that the Afghani mother in the doorway will ultimately experience more blessing than I ever will. I hope that is so.
Perhaps Jesus answered the question of blessings when he shared the Beatitudes. Maybe the richest blessings are unleashed in the face of hardship. Maybe God’s blessings have more to do with trouble than with ease.
But every once in awhile… every now and then… out of nowhere… my mind will rest on God for a moment … and my heart will ‘burn’ within me. It’s not an emotion I conjure but it is a very real Presence. I can’t explain it but something glows in my core and I know again that God is real, and is with me. The mystery of a loving God.
We don’t always deserve blessings but grace distributes them generously to those who need them.
We are blessed.
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² Matthew 5:45, NIV