Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Blessed, not Flourishing

Blessed. The word is a rorshach test. Ask a Christian what they mean when they say it and you'll catch a glimpse into their theology. From the highly unscientific research I've conducted it seems that most people treat it as happy, fortunate, recipient of a gift, well off, and so on. In some cases that's what we mean when we say it too, and in some cases that's what the biblical writers meant as well.

It reminds me of eudaimonia, the flourishing that many ancient Greek philosophers highlighted as the chief meaning of life. To be blessed is to have some kind of divine favour that leads to eudaimonia.

A little word study reveals an alternative to this concept of blessed in Jesus' sermon on the mount. In both Matthew and Luke the word behind "blessed" is makarios. Makarios was only used of the gods, the dead, and the astronomically wealthy. In short, if someone doesn't have to worry about the concerns of this world they are makarios-blessed. Strange, then, that Jesus says the following:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus has put a message out that says it is possible to escape the trials of this world, that people can be free from worrying about the struggle and can get on with the more divine life. To mourn, to be meek, to hunger for righteousness; all of these things provide a way out of the drudgery of the daily grind, the daily pursuit of consumer goods, the daily concerns about career, and so on. Jesus' sermon is about a life distinct from those things, about a life that is makarios.

These blessings are not flourishing, and don't pretend to be flourishing. In stark contrast to eudaimonia they belong to an existence that is unencumbered from that life. Jesus' gospel is a new way to live, not a divinely-charged hyper-life that puts believers on the cover of lifestyle magazines. To be blessed this way is to be in the world but not of the world.
Post a Comment