The term “blessing” is one that gets thrown around quite a bit in our Christian culture. When is it most often used? When we get a big raise, or the loan for a new house comes through, we say that God really “blessed” us. Does that mean that if the job had not gone through that you were cursed by God? Is physical and financial prosperity the evidence of God’s blessing on our lives and painful suffering or disappointment the evidence of His curse?
Where does this kind of thinking come from? Honestly, it comes from the book of Deuteronomy. Throughout Moses’ sermon, he continually reminds the nation that if they will obey God they will be blessed and if they disobey God, they will be cursed.
If you come from an evangelical protestant perspective, then the language of blessings and cursings may seem anti-biblical to you. You have been well-versed on the evils of a “works based” salvation. You have been taught that God is not standing in Heaven with a scale on which hangs a basket on one side labeled “good works” and a basket on the other labeled “evil deeds.” The criteria for entrance into Heaven is not based on which basket is heaviest–good heavier=you’re in; bad heavier= you’re out. It doesn’t work like that. You have been taught that Paul told us that it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, not of works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Rest assured, you have been taught well. It is by grace that we have been saved. If that is true, then, how do we then deal with passages like Deuteronomy 27-28? In these passages, and truly, in the very heart of the message of Deuteronomy, it seems as if God is saying, “Do good and live, do evil and die.” How do we deal with this paradigm?
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- The religions of the nations in Canaan believed in gods that were irradic, tempermental, and unpredictable. The people had to appease the gods and coerse them to bring about good things like fertile crops and physical health. Yaweh, through the law given to Moses, demonstrates to Israel that He is not like that. There is a lifestyle that leads to health and safety, and there is a lifestyle that leads to death and destruction. There is order to the universe and God does act justly. So, stop living in the anxiety of a neurotic diety.
- As was already cited in the introduction, the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy were spoken to the nation as a whole. They were not individual contracts of direct cause and effect relationships between each man’s “righteous acts” and God’s “fiscal blessing.” The stories of Joseph, Job, Ecclesiastes, Jesus, and the apostles reaffirm that righteousness does not automatically insure physical/material prosperity.
- The blessings and curses were more general truisms that needed to be driven home into the hearts of the people. If the nation will follow God, it will go well for them. (of course it will, because God’s Law was designed to keep them safe and healthy and protected from corruption). If they did not obey God’s Law then they would open themselves up to the very infectious diseases (both physical and spiritual) against which the Law was designed to defend. The blessings and curses can be thought of more as a natural law of cause and effect as opposed to the arbitrary acts of a vindictive God sending down lightning bolts to punish the disobedient.
- If God were all about cursing the sinner, then the human story would have been over with Adam and Eve. They would have been destroyed at the crunch of the fruit and it would have been lights out. Instead, God has established an everlasting covenant with Abraham which He will fulfill no matter how wicked the covenant people become.
Let’s remember that God loves us and that His laws have been established for our benefit, to create space in our lives in which the Kingdom of God can flourish. They are not oppressive, rather they are truly liberating. Let’s also remember that the true blessing of God is a relationship with Him. It is in the spirit of this blessing that James could say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you suffer various trials.” Let us live in the blessing of obedience today.