This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What does it mean to be blessed by God?
A: With the rise of our #blessed social media culture, it might seem like everyone knows what it means to “be blessed.” From college acceptance letters to photos of lattes in the sun, Instagram photos are tagged the same—#blessed. While often devoid of much theological reflection, this knee-jerk reaction to view the good things in life as God’s blessing is not far from the mark. Truly, God does give us every good gift we receive, as James 1:17 reminds us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Our problem is not with labeling good gifts as God’s blessings, but in dangerously narrowing our vision of blessing to the extent that we only think it exists in the form of acceptance letters and creamy lattes. God’s blessing is big and far more encompassing than we often think.
In the first chapter of Genesis we see that blessing was a fundamental part of God’s plan for his image-bearing creatures. He created them, blessed them, and commissioned them to fill the world with his glory. What did this blessing look like? Human beings were created to experience the fullness of life in the presence of God. This has always been God’s good design for his people, and the story of Scripture testifies to God’s commitment to bless his people from every nation. In Genesis 12:1-3 God promises Abraham that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed! Divine blessing is not a good gift here or there, but the fullness of all we were created to be in relationship with the One we were created for.
God’s commitment to bless his people reaches its pinnacle in the sending of his Son—the promised offspring of Abraham—to guarantee the salvation and blessing of his people. The apostle Paul unpacks this Old Testament promise given to Abraham in Galatians 3:14, writing, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” When we unite with Christ by faith, when we receive his curse-crushing sacrifice on our behalf, we are given new life in the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, shaping our lives day by day, fitting for our eternal blessing in God’s holy presence.
God’s good gifts should not satisfy our desire for blessing but rather draw us up and into a larger vision of God’s good plan for his people. The good things in our lives are blessings when they bring us nearer to God and prepare our hearts for the fullness of life in his kingdom.
In this addition to the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, William Osborne traces the theme of blessing throughout the Bible, equipping readers with a fuller understanding of God’s benevolence for everyday life.
Q: Does divine blessing always include health and wealth?
A: When we understand God’s blessing as his design for his people to experience the fullness of life in his presence, we recognize that the word “blessing” cannot be a mere synonym for our current creature comforts. This is why the New Testament writers can tell us to rejoice in our suffering (1 Pet. 1:6; 4:13) and know contentment in our lack (Phil. 4:10-13). To experience God’s blessing can include prosperity and healing, but by themselves, these qualities are not proof of God’s benevolent hand. The opposite is also not the case: poverty and sickness are not necessarily proof of God’s judgment or cursing (see the disciples’ confusion on this point in John 9:1-5).
The Bible is not embarrassed by the material nature of God’s good gifts. Indeed, frequently in the Old Testament, God’s blessing toward his people looks like lots of cattle and kids! Some would read these texts as proof that God’s blessing is observed in our wealth, good health, and influence. The prosperity gospel would tell us that these traits are characteristic of the faithful Christian life, and if you are not experiencing them, you have a faith problem.
The off-camera truth lurking behind the prosperity gospel sham is that the prosperity vision of blessing is too small! Paul encourages the Christians in Rome by reminding them that the God who gave his Son for their salvation will not withhold any good thing from them (Rom. 8:32). The God of Scripture is not rubbing his hands, waiting for his people to get their act together so he can bless them. He has already given them the most precious gift he could ever give: his Son!
The Old Testament portrayal of blessing as having children, attaining the Promised Land, and long life are covenantal patterns derived from God’s garden agenda, which propel us toward the eternal, new covenant realities that God has planned for his people. The Bible does indeed promise believers that they will have health, wealth, and power—in the new heavens and the new earth. We are assured that the reconciling work of Christ’s death will do away with all pain, sorrow, tears, and evil, but not yet. Right now, we are still living by the power of the Holy Spirit, putting to death sin in our mortal bodies as we await the final consummation of the Kingdom of God. God’s design has always been for his people to experience the fullness of life in his presence—physically and spiritually. In the present, we experience both material and spiritual blessings in part, but the day is coming when we will have them in their fullness.
God’s good gifts should not satisfy our desire for blessing but rather draw us up and into a larger vision of God’s good plan for his people.
Q: Can people be cursed by God?
A: Provided that we frequently talk about God blessing people, it naturally follows to ask whether he also curses people. When we speak of God cursing people in Scripture, we are describing the divine posture toward rebellion and disobedience. Curses do not appear as some ad hoc divine response to lapsing morality; they are divine judgements grounded in a covenantal context that dictates how God will deal with his people. This is most clearly seen in the blessing and curses provided in the book of Deuteronomy.
As the second generation of Israelites were marching toward the Promised Land, God led his servant Moses to declare his covenant to his people. Reminding them of his past kindness towards them in Egypt, his provision for them in the wilderness, and his love for them as his chosen people, Moses set before the people God’s covenant stipulations as to how they were to live as his people once they entered Canaan. Like a great doorway, these commands were framed by the covenantal pillars of blessings and curses. Moses emphatically proclaims to the people that if they will keep God’s commands, he will meet their every need—rain for their crops, food for their families, protection from their enemies. He also explains, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deut. 28:15). Sadly, we see the latter situation played out in Israel’s history as nation after nation comes against them, finally ending in Judah’s exile to Babylon.
Did Israel experience the covenant curses laid out in Deuteronomy? Yes. Is this the same way God deals with us today? No. This change is not because God has changed. It is not as though the God of the Old Testament was a God of cursing instead of blessing. The difference between divine blessing on the plains of Moab and today is Jesus. In Christ, God established a new way of dealing with his people—a new door through which his people must walk to enter his blessing. The covenant curses for lawbreakers have been punished; Jesus Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), so that in him we might receive God’s new covenant blessings! Is there still the possibility of experiencing divine cursing? Yes. Those who reject the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus are still left under the crushing weight of sin, and are left to anticipate the assured judgement and curse that follows.
William R. Osborne is the author of Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God.
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