by Steve Case | 19 January 2024 |
As a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, I don’t look to the pope for guidance. I grew up believing the pope was “the beast”—or at least a boogeyman.
But when the pope said it was okay to bless same-sex couples who request one, the news media had a new headline for its news cycle on December 18, 2023.
Those opposed to same-sex unions saw this as the slippery slope to perdition, or even the catalyst for a schism in the Roman Catholic Church. Those in favor of same-sex unions saw it either as not enough, or as a cautious step toward greater inclusiveness.
What is a blessing?
The Vatican document Fiducia supplicans (supplicating trust) spends part of its 45 paragraphs describing “descending” blessings from God to us on earth, and “ascending” blessings from us to God in praise, celebration, and gratitude.
Rather than such a blessing being a liturgical act that might elevate it to one of the church’s sacraments such as marriage, the Vatican document goes to great lengths to separate the two. But it also calls for priests to have pastoral charity that permeates decisions and attitudes rather than to be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude others.
Do I bless others?
I suppose it would be up to others to decide whether or not I was a blessing to them—though it’s not my style to use the word “blessing” in my conversation, or to make a pronouncement of blessing on someone.
On a Maranatha mission trip I took to India, some Hindu people came up to me, took both of my hands, placed them on top of their heads, and asked me to pray a blessing on them. I felt awkward doing it. Did I have the power to actually “bless” them? Did my words make it happen? I recall praying for God to answer based on the faith of the Hindu rather than my midget-like faith.
When someone sneezes and I say “Bless you,” that comes more from a childhood upbringing than theological reflection or generosity. I don’t even give the fuller version of “God bless you.”
I’ve never felt I had the power to give a blessing that makes any significant difference. When Jacob stole the birthright blessing Isaac intended for Esau, it seemed something true for that place and time, but it doesn’t seem real in my world. When Esau cried out “Bless me—me too, my father!” couldn’t the earlier blessing he gave Isaac be retracted, especially since it had been stolen? Is blessing a zero-sum game, in which any blessing you get means less is available for me? If I give out a blessing to someone, will that mean that I have less to give to another person who might be more deserving or more in need of a blessing? If so, I should bless sparingly.
But I believe God has no limits to his blessings. He is God, and a creator God at that. As a child of God, I have access to God’s storehouse, so any blessings I pass along to another person won’t lessen the burgeoning blessings God seeks to give—either directly to someone or through people like me to that someone.
Understandably, politicians and nationalists bless little since they operate from a perspective of scarcity. But God’s people believe the promise given to Abram, “I will bless you” and “All peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” So why not bless someone else, especially when we have received blessings, and when someone asks us for a blessing, even if that someone isn’t in my preferred group of insiders?
It’s okay to bless
In the Gospel accounts that reveal God through Jesus, we see how Christ chose to respond to the marginalized. One group was the little people—children—whom Christ’s disciples rebuked for coming to Jesus for a blessing. Christ became indignant (strong word) with his disciples, highlighting God’s kingdom belongs to the very ones his disciples excluded. The incident concludes with, “And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
The question of whether or not it’s okay to bless someone seems as rhetorical as asking whether or not it’s okay to do good on the Sabbath. That’s what the Pharisees asked Jesus when he entered a synagogue where a man with a withered hand was present.
Anticipating Jesus would help the helpless man, they asked the question, apparently not knowing how ridiculous it was: “Is it okay to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus pointed out that most people took better care of animals than they did for this marginalized person.
Instead of answering their question with a question as he so often did, Jesus gave the answer: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” This seems as simple and obvious as saying, “It’s okay to bless people.”
So the leader of a different denomination than mine has made me consider the words of the doxology with greater thought and action. Should you sing it this Sabbath, sing it in a way to bless others just as God has blessed us.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Steve Case has spent most of his life in different forms of youth ministry and intergenerational church. Recent publications include Relational Bible Studies that can be downloaded for free at RelationalBibleStudies.com and lessons on finding Jesus in the Book of Revelation (Revelation101.com). He’s also done a paraphrase of Steps to Christ, called Connection: How to Have a Relationship with God.