What does it mean to say that we are blessed? “God has really blessed me,” I hear people say when they get good news of have good fortune. “Have a blessed day,” someone adds as they say goodbye. But what do we say when our day or life doesn’t turn out the way we expect? When a child gets sick, really sick, and you pray every day, maybe all day that things will get better, but nothing changes? When a job is lost, a country is thrown into turmoil or a person we love goes away. Are we still blessed?
The world conditions us to think that blessings only come when life is good. If we have wealth, good health, and everything’s just right, we’re blessed. And when we don’t, we aren’t. But when life gets too heavy—your family falls apart; or your mother dies; or you can’t pay your bills—we can be left feeling that God is absent or doesn’t care. We go through the motions. We pray, but we can’t help but wonder, why? Who, we ask, needs a God like this?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). I believe these are some of the most powerful and important words in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul speaks them to a bustling, industrious and wealthy community. Money, power and human wisdom meant everything. They were signs of success, strength and blessing. Paul comes and points to the cross. He shows them that God is most present where he seems least present.
I can hear the collective cry of the people, “Who needs a God like this?” I don’t want weakness. I want bright, shiny success. I want God’s favor and blessing, and that means wherever God is, waves can’t exist. Think about the second day after the crucifixion. Jesus died a miserable death. The tomb holds his body and it’s sealed shut. This is how things look from the very bottom. Everyone glances around and thinks it’s over. Lots of tears and a ton of doubt. Who will lead? Where do they go? They come up short. No answers. Utter despair. Really? Who needs a God like this?!
God was there-the whole time. The disciples had to wait to discover that, but God never left them. God was at work, preparing all for new life.
In the worst moments, God may seem absent, but God moves through the reversals of fortune. Think about it. If you look at your own past and see a deep crevice of pain, it is there that you can often see your faith deepened. You see a trust in God and a realization that you can’t save yourself. You probably didn’t know it then, but you do now.
And yet, we are so quick to exchange this wisdom for the idea that God only loves us when we are worthy or successful by the standards of the world. We are only blessed or useful, we think, when we achieve something or have something to offer. When we don’t, we feel we aren’t blessed. When we do this we ignore God’s saving work in the cross. We forget that the way of God is often using the shame of the world for God’s glory. We never deserve it and we can’t earn it, but God is present, loving us anyway.
God often sneaks in through the back door of life. The crucifixion allows us to derive meaning from reversals. Many times it is through weakness that we are made strong. It is through the cross and resurrection that we see what it means to be blessed, even in the midst of challenges.
Remember how the story ends. The crucifixion starts in despair and ends in new life. The future couldn’t get any bleaker for Jesus and his disciples. But, God had a plan. And no matter what the circumstance, we can look to God’s work throughout time, especially the saving work of the cross, and see what it means to be saved from whatever it is that causes our despair.
For most, this too shall pass. And, for some, it may not. But when Jesus rises from the dead, he tells us there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if we hold on through our most doubtful times, our Lord will carry and cover us.
Who needs a God like this? I do. How about you?