One wonderful thing about language is how it changes over time to reflect society. New words are introduced, redundant ones retired and rules modified. But when words are used out of context, or in a confusing way, they gradually lose meaning, which can cause problems.
The other evening, I listened to an intriguing documentary about journalism in a post-truth society. It explored the changing relationship between facts and truth and how people lash out when they encounter someone with a different opinion. Is the definition of “truth” starting to change? Philosophically, truth isn’t up for debate. When someone says “this is my truth,” they’re talking about their beliefs. Beliefs are subjective – truth is not. But try telling that to the average postmodernist.
When words lose their meaning, they also lose significance. “Blessed” is another word our society is twisting. I grew up saying “bless you” when someone sneezed, knowing deep down all I meant was “feel better.” When I lived in the UK, the phrase “aww bless” was often used as a casual expression of sympathy. Today, a quick search on Instagram will give you 116 million posts using the word “blessed” as a hashtag on photos of selfies, inspirational quotes, beautiful homes, shiny vehicles and more.
This is a shallow, trivialized version of the real thing. Reducing blessings into a humblebrag about success or as a celebration of happiness reflects not Christ but our Western, materialistic, post-Christian culture, sometimes in fake Christian packaging. Many Instagram posts are spiritual sounding, hashtagging how blessed their families are or how blessed their ministry is. While these are wonderful things to be grateful for, it’s still approaching the term from the world’s definition rather than Scripture’s.
Blessed are the . . .
The original Old English meaning of blessed, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, is “made holy; consecrated.” This makes sense when looking at the term through the lens of Scripture. When Jesus outlined the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, he didn’t say that those who live pretty good lives and follow the rules will receive perfect homes and good health. He said things like, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (5), and “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (11-12). Here we learn that when we live our lives according to Kingdom values, God will bless us with insults and persecution! His word also promises comfort, mercy, peace, salvation and “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Pursuing the #blessed life means living according to the Beatitudes. It means setting aside our earthly ambitions in favour of following God wherever he leads us. In the process, we may not find the American Dream but we will be blessed, really blessed. It’s a different kind of blessing than the rest of the world wants, and it leads to a much deeper experience of joy and hope, unrelated to our current feelings or circumstances.
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