Monday, May 6, 2024

What "God bless you" can also mean. . .

Years ago there was an aging Roman Catholic priest in town.  He was well know, especially to those working in the hospital where he often visited.  He was full of smiles.  He would pull into a hospital room  Baptists and non-denominationals and those whose faith was not yet determined and bid them to pray with them.  It was a sight to behold as people who probably had not prayed for a very long time somehow mustered up the memory to speak with him the Our Father.  He told everyone he saw:  God bless you!

Most of my memory of him is that he was kind of embarrassing.  He presumed too much and did not speak as clearly as I would have liked.  He seemed to me a parody of a priest instead of a real one.  Over time I came to feel rather affectionate toward him.  He just rolled in and did his thing and did not seem to be concerned about or worried over how he was received.  In some respects, he was exactly the kind of priest who could go where others could not and stand as a reminder of God's presence and His steadfast love.  I also learned something from him.

All those times when it seemed he was routinely dispensing God's blessing to any and all who happened to be in earshot, he was not implying that God approved of them or everything they were thinking of doing.  To say God bless you is not to say that God loves you just the way you are and wouldn't change a thing about you.  That would make the cross a joke.  Inherent in the words God bless you is the expectation that God will do what God must do in order to bring you to repentance, plant faith in you, and nurture that faith to bear fruit in this life and to bring you to everlasting life.  Sometimes to say God bless you is to invite God to convict your heart concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.  That is the Spirit's work, after all.  The best blessing God can bestow upon you is not His approval of or disregard for your sin.  No, indeed, the best blessing God can bestow upon you is to bring you to repentance, convict your heart regarding your sin and unrighteousness, and raise you up in faith to know, believe, and rejoice in the Gospel.  Ours is not a God of second chances but a God of redemption, rescue, and renewal.  He does not raise us up and stand back just so we can screw it all up again but restores us out of love so that we might learn and know who we are and whose we are.

I am not saying that when we behold sin we can pop by and drop a God bless you on the sin and the sinners and walk away.  What I am saying is this.  I do not know the condition of your heart.  I only know what I see and hear.  But God does know.  To impart God's blessing is to ask God to work in you that which is pleasing in His sight and beneficial for your salvation.  That may mean bringing you low as you come face to face with your sin and guilt.  The Lord never leaves the penitent there but to bring us to penitence we must pass through the valley of the shadow.  So when I say God bless you, I am not saying you are good to go as you are.  What I am saying is this.  God's blessing is realized first and foremost by faith which believes in Christ crucified and risen, repentance which lives daily in your heart, and renewal working to shape your heart to desire the things of God most of all and your mind to entertain them in your thoughts.  In contrast to this, the idea of God's blessing that would say only God likes you and wants you to be happy is a pretty shallow idea of blessing and one unworthy of the God willing to send His Son to suffer and die and rise again.

God bless you is not reserved for those who have finally gotten it all together.  It is the reminder to those in whom everything is falling apart that God is also your hope and your salvation.  I write this not to a particular cause or issue but to remind me and every Christian that God's blessing is not His stamp of approval but the prayer that God will work in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight.  That begins with bringing us to repentance, renewing our faith, and restoring us through the means of grace.

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