DIFFERENT THINGS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE

Some readers will remember the song “Happiness Is” in which after citing a variety of specifics for select people, the chorus affirms it is “Different things to different people.” Our own experience no doubt confirms the truth of the song’s premise.

I’ve been thinking about another word (in addition to happiness) that also means different things to different people. And not just one word, but several.

What brought it to mind was my quoting of Bruce Metzger in my Bible class and a student’s suggestion that he was one of my favorite professors. As I left the classroom I thought, “What a privilege it was for me to take several classes with such a brilliant, well-known, and gracious New Testament scholar.”

The word, of course, that means different things to different people today is privilege. I looked up a dictionary definition of privilege and read that it was “a special right or advantage granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” That wasn’t my definition as I was using the word.

Then I looked up the word lucky and read that among other thing it means “fortunate, favored, charmed, fluky, and accidental.” In terms of those choices, I would agree I was fortunate (lucky) to study under Bruce Metzger—I don’t think it was accidental.

The third word, and perhaps the best word, to describe my experience with Bruce Metzger is one of the words included in defining lucky: blessed. One dictionary definition of blessing is “a special favor, mercy, or benefit.” My favorite definition suggests a blessing is “a favor or gift bestowed by God.”

As I understand and use the words I don’t think I have been or am privileged, but I consider many of the opportunities and experiences I have enjoyed as privileges. I wouldn’t necessarily use the word lucky to describe these things, but neither would I be upset if someone suggested I have been lucky. If pushed to be precise in describing my life experiences I would say I have been richly blessed by God and enjoyed many blessings from him.

The words privilege, privileged, lucky, blessed, and blessings all mean different things to different people. The point is that we all have been on the receiving end in many ways, haven’t we?

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ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE BLESSED?

I am currently teaching a Bible study in which we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). In these verses Jesus pronounces blessed those who have and live out eight qualities and aspects of life.

At first reading, at least four of the characterizations Jesus affirms do not strike us as describing someone who is blessed. On the surface, not many of us would associate “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” as blessed people.

By the way, although some suggest the word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, I think that devalues the idea of being “blessed”. The idea of “blessed” is that God congratulates those who have these qualities and that his favor is on them. Max Lucado writes about the beatitudes with a book entitled The Applause of Heaven suggesting God claps for those with these characteristics.

Out of the four that seem contradictory, the one that seems most paradoxical to me is “Blessed are those who mourn.” If we use the popular translation of blessed some use, the description reads “Happy are the sad.” “Those who mourn” are those who suffer pain and loss, who grieve, and whose hearts are broken. Jesus tells us they are blessed—and we want to ask, “Are you sure they are blessed?”

In preparing to talk about this beatitude, I was struck again as I reread something John Stott wrote in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on this second beatitude about those who mourn, he wrote “we need to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter.”

The Bible does not tell us that if we worship and love the Lord, have faith in Jesus and follow him we will live problem and pain free lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” And in the Old Testament there is a book of five chapters entitled Lamentations!

Most commentators note that when it comes to mourning there are different levels. We mourn our own sins, the sins of those around us, and the condition of the world. But we also grief our personal losses. Dealing with pain, suffering, loss, and grief is a part of life. Is there anyone reading this post who has not suffered a loss? It seems like I have had more occasions to mourn the last 10 months than usual.

Dr. David Gallagher reminds us “God never promised an easy journey, but God did promise to be with us through it all.” A little later he warns us, “A major misunderstanding we sometimes face is that grief is our enemy to be avoided. In reality, grief is a dear friend.”

We may not realize it at the time, but perhaps part of the blessing of mourning is the capacity to hurt and grieve—to know and feel sorrow. And maybe part of the blessing is having God with us in our grief, even though he doesn’t immediately take it away.

Let’s keep wrestling with Jesus’ pronouncement that those who mourn are blessed. I’m confident he’s sure we are—and I’m making progress in understanding it.

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