Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
According to Claus Westermann, God’s presence and activity in the Bible and in our lives manifests in two ways: deliverance and blessing.
Deliverance gets more press because it fits the way we tell stories. Historical narratives move from one crisis and turning point to another. We consider newsworthy whatever interrupts the normal course of things.
When God disrupts oppression of entire nations or of individual souls and sets people free, we call that good news, or gospel. Exodus and Easter are the two great liberations, the salvation of a chosen people and of every soul.
Furthermore, disruption and deliverance recur in scripture in subsequent stories with every rescue from aggressors, return home, miraculous healing, and still, small voice that interrupts, calls, and sends people on missions. We remember the dates of these events and celebrate them gratefully. The memory of these events forms and maintains religious identity.
Blessing, on the other hand, neither makes the news, nor does it define us. All religions recognize blessings, the everyday stuff we need to survive and thrive: Fertility, children, shelter, crops, rain, green trees and fields, art, friendship, and on and on.
Signs of deliverance — disruptions — naturally awaken us. Burning bushes snap up our attention. But waking up to blessings takes discipline, spiritual practice.
Moreover, sometimes finding blessings seems more challenging than others, even for the wide awake. Jesus has such situations in mind in the more abbreviated Beatitudes (blessings) quoted in Luke 6:20-23:
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Poverty, hunger, weeping, and persecution call to mind deliverance more than blessing, or so it seems. Yet, calling us blessed in such conditions does not change the meaning of blessing. Rather, it challenges us to a deeper understanding.
A deeper understanding of blessing
The promise of deliverance from the harsh present to a future blessedness — the kingdom of God, being filled, laughter, reward — clearly has its part. Deliverance means nothing if it does not lead to blessing.
But deeper still, I believe, Jesus means in the Beatitudes of both Luke and Matthew that if you suffer now, blessing is underway. God is up to something good, however mysterious. In this sense, blessing is deliverance and deliverance, blessing.
The present blessing of those who suffer is Christ with them, the Christ who knows suffering first hand as we know it, but who knows resurrection first hand as we cannot imagine. And just as he, inexplicably, did not suffer in vain, so we do not suffer in vain, although we find ourselves at a loss to account for it.
In your comfort, count your blessings. In your trials, count on them. You will be comforted all the more.