Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Blessed Life

The Beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12) have been described as a passage that turns all conventional thinking on its head. J. B. Phillips, author of Your God Is Too Small, probably said it best when he wrote a widely quoted "converse version" featuring such aphorisms as "Happy are they who complain, for they get their own way in the end." (For those interested in reading the whole list, a Google search for the above phrase will turn up several postings.) Indeed, some Bible scholars have claimed that Jesus intended this description of the "blessed life" only as a theoretical view of the ideal, so antithetical does it seem to what it takes to survive in this world.

If perhaps some of those scholars let their interpretive skills be tainted by an "anything to avoid admitting this could apply to me" attitude, few of us could blame them for it without being found with logs in our own eyes. And it's not always a desire to continue in comfortable selfishness that makes us want to dodge passages like this one. For some of us, it's the fear of failure, of taking on a task too big to handle. And the fear is hardly unfounded. To consistently practice humility, mercy, and the pursuit of God's peace and justice is something that is, quite literally, humanly impossible.

But actually, that's the point. The qualities Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23, which show obvious similarities to the Beatitudes, are called the "fruit of the Spirit," not the "fruit of human effort." In both passages, the underlying idea is not striving to achieve the ideal on our own power, but being willing to cooperate as God remakes us in His image. It's rarely as quick or obvious as we'd like; frequently, it's seriously painful. Jesus said that "a house divided against itself will fall" (Lk. 11:17); and frankly, a serious desire to become Christlike turns the human heart into a house divided: impatient to achieve patience, looking for God's will less from love of Him than from hope our lives will become easier at least emotionally, constantly fighting what we have to go through for our own good, living as perennial bundles of mixed motives. And fall we do, frequently and hard. Often so hard we can't get up on our own.

The Hebrew for "he restores my soul" in Psalm 23:3 can also be roughly translated as "He sets me upright." Yes, just as God is the true Power enabling us to grow in the blessed life, He is the one Who lifts us up and keeps us going when we feel we've reached the point where it's impossible to continue.

He will bring us safely to the land of eternal blessing.

Blessed is every humble soul:
Heaven is their lifelong goal.

Blessed are all the ones who weep:
God will make their comfort deep.

Blessed are all the meek of heart:
Endless wealth will be their part.

Blessed are those who crave the right:
God will make their joy so bright.

Blessed are those whose hearts are kind:
God's own mercy they will find.

Blessed are those whose hearts are pure:
By God's grace they will endure.

Blessed are those who strive for peace:
In God's family they increase.

Blessed are those abused when good:
God rewards their servanthood.

Blessed are all who love God's ways:
He will shower them with His praise!

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