Monthly Archives: November 2011
I have the privilege of working with a small congregation that was birthed back in the early 1950’s during the great boom days of the post World War II United States. Like so many of her sisters (assemblies of Christ are given feminine attributes in the NT) she is showing a little of her age, but also is remarkably healthy considering many of her family that share a common birthday. We have been looking at the idea of what it means to dream again, to take an older, established congregation and to restore a vision for the future. I know there is an entire library of books written on this very subject, but by doing my own original research into applicable texts within the Bible there it seems to me there are some very basic truths that need to be accepted before a congregation can move on to making plans in its own specific situation. Here are just a few of my gleanings:
- The past exists. Don’t turn it into a museum, nor a mausoleum. If a generation is considered to be 40 years, when a congregation moves into its second or third generation there is a lot of history that has accumulated, some of it very good and some of it very bad. The tendency is to either worship the past (the past is perfect, remember the “good old days”) or to belittle it and seek to erase it (Henry Ford – “history is bunk”). A proper balance is critical. Acknowledge and honor the past, but do not deify it.
- Ministry band-aids are not a cure. Very often when a congregation begins to wane there is an anxiety that leads to pressure to “just do something.” So ministry programs are started with no real foresight as to how they will be continued, or even if they fit the congregation’s plans and goals. Here there is a real danger to do whatever everyone else is doing just because at least it represents movement. So busses are purchased and then sold, puppet stages are built and then discarded, praise teams are recruited and then ignored, ad infinitum.
- If you build it, they will not come. Do you go to a movie theater to seat in comfy seats or to see a movie? Do you go to a baseball stadium to admire the architecture or to support your home team? Do you go to a restaurant to admire the perfectly matched color combinations or to eat a meal? The point is not to create chairs that are miserable to sit in, or to build churches that are architectural disasters, or to paint the building in bizarre color schemes. The point is that if a person enters a church building they expect to be brought into the presence of God – however imperfectly they may conceive that God. If you don’t get to see a movie you would not return to that theater, and if no ball game was played you would not go back to the park, and if you never were served a meal you would not go back to that restaurant. If you want people to hear God, then you must present God. Leave the incidentals to the incidentals. Focus on God, his Son, and what it means to be God’s people on this earth.
- You exist for a reason. Stop and think about it – if a congregation exists for 40, 50, 60 or more years there have been many, many people who have kept that congregation alive. So today God has blessed you with people who have the skills and gifts necessary to maintain and grow the congregation. Don’t pray for someone to move in that can fix all your problems – find the person in the pew right now who can! Believe in the power of God to work wonders through the tools you have in you bag right now. To think that God could do something 50 years ago that he is unable to do today is really a benevolent form of atheism. Don’t tell God what he cannot do!
- If death is imminent, don’t put the patient in the newborn wing. Sadly, there comes a time when congregations will outlive their useful life. It makes no sense for 15 people to meet in an auditorium that seats 150 (or 300!). If, in the wisdom of all assembled, a decision is reached that the congregation can no longer exist, then let it end with dignity and honor. Celebrate its past, honor those who have gone before, and pray for wisdom for how to use the gifts and abilities of those remaining. Sell the building, meet in homes, regroup, pray, and learn to dream again. God delivered the Israelites after 400 years of Egyptian slavery. God sent the Jews into Babylonian captivity for 70 years. Every end marks the chance for a new beginning. What we need to do is look for the hand of God in everything, and seek his will in all our decisions.
I’m sure I’ll have some more thoughts on this as we work our way through this process. No comprehensive blueprint exists for getting a congregation to dream again, but we can believe in the God who is the God of all visions and dreams. If you find yourself in this position, may God bless your journey, as we pray he blesses ours.
The writers of the Bible give us a wonderful description of many tools that they used, or that God used through them, in the course of fulfilling his plan. First we might list all the tools Noah used to build his floating zoo. Then there is Aaron’s rod, Moses’ staff, David’s slingshot, Peter James and John’s fishing nets, Paul’s sewing needle, and many, many pens. However, I think the one tool that has been used most frequently by modern Christians is the one that God never intended to be duplicated at all: Jehoiakim’s little knife.
The story, if you want to refresh your memory, is found in Jeremiah 36. I won’t recount the whole story as Jeremiah (or Baruch) does a much better job. But suffice it to say that Jehoiakim did not like what he read in Jeremiah’s prophecy so he cut it up and burned it. Silly king, as if that would stop God. Jeremiah just wrote another copy, and a longer one at that.
As I survey Christianity today in all of its various models and permutations there are several things that truly disturb me. One is the obvious division. Like the apostle Paul, I would assume some division is necessary, because what some people call Christianity is clearly anything but, and true disciples must stand firm on revealed truth. But most of the divisions within Christianity are just plain personality issues. The second thing that bothers me about the church today is this absurd desire to cut huge swaths of Scripture from the canon simply because it does not correspond so someone’s perception of reality. Jehoiakim’s knife is in just about everyone’s hand these days.
Name a current hot-button issue in the church and tell me that there is not wholesale biblical deconstruction going on: sexuality (including, but not limited to homosexuality), leadership roles in the church, worship practices, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, even deciding which translation of the Bible is to be read! If every debated or “unapproved” Scripture was cut out of the Bible what would we be left with? Don’t tell me John 3:16, because it calls Jesus the Son of God, and that will just not make the feminists happy at all. Too bad John didn’t just say “child.” But then, the anti-blood atonement folks would just pop a cork because of all the divine child abuse issues that raises. Huge sigh. If we cannot even agree on the translation of a Greek word I do not have a whole lot of optimism that we can solve the division problem.
Every week as I prepare a message from God’s word I am struck with a truth that is both beyond understanding and also immensely comforting. God is bigger than we are. God’s word is bigger and deeper than our human minds can fully comprehend. Revelation is God-given, not man created. That means there are paradoxes and ambiguities in the written word of God that I do not have to fully understand, indeed I probably will never be able to understand. God did not give us a text-book, he gave us a record of his divine intention so that we might believe and love Him and ultimately the One whom he sent. Faith precedes and exceeds knowledge. We can believe our way into knowing, but only in the most extreme cases can we know our way into believing.
That truth speaks volumes about our seeming unending desire to cut the Bible down to a size that is comfortable to us. And I speak in the plural here, as I have to admit my own blind spots (refer to my 14 Undeniable Truths of Theological Reflection, #1). I cannot tell of the times I have become absolutely convinced of the correctness of my interpretation of a passage of Scripture, only to find other passages which not only question my “assured results of modern scholarship,” but sometimes flatly reject it. God’s word truly is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). Here I have a lousy little pen knife in my hand and I think I’m so powerful. What is my knife in the sight of God’s living sword?
Jehoiakim thought he was destroying the words of Jeremiah. In actuality all he was doing was preparing a path for a renewed and even deeper word from the prophet. Many well-intentioned interpreters of Scripture think they are improving on or enriching the word of God by removing passages they do not like. God’s word is bigger than they are, and at some point he will cause his word to have its desired effect (Isa. 55:10-11).
God gave us a lot of tools to use – hammers and saws and shepherds crooks and slingshots and fishing nets and sewing needles and writing pens. Why are we so driven to use that filthy, worthless knife?
Before I leave the subject of pacifism and the church I have just a few more comments to make, or perhaps repeat, to sum up.
I believe that Richard Hughes and Leonard Allen have done a wonderful job of describing how the Churches of Christ have moved from a pacifistic orientation to a hawkish one. Hughes in particular has documented how the church moved away from the apocalypticism of Barton W. Stone and David Lipscomb. As it did so it lost a major component of Old and New Testament theology. We started thinking more in terms of the politics of this world and less about the kingdom of God. This occurred primarily during World War I, and the change was virtually complete by the time World War II started. Today it is difficult to separate military triumphalism from Christian worship. It is because of this mentality that I believe Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship is so important. We need to hear his corrective to our militaristic attitude.
Second, I think it is critical that disciples of Christ reexamine the change in the use of the military over the past 50 years, especially within the past decade. The last time a president declared war according to the US Constitution was WWII. Korea, Vietnam, numerous smaller skirmishes, the first Gulf conflict, the second Gulf conflict, and the invasion of Afghanistan – none have officially been declared as wars. However, what separates Korea and Vietnam from the most recent uses of the military is that, at least on one level, they were defensive in nature. We were supposedly defending South Korea and South Vietnam from aggressors, just as we were called upon to support Kuwait against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf “war.” President George Bush changed all of that, perhaps forever, when he attacked Iraq with nothing but a promise that we would find weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them against our allies. It turns out that neither was found, and for the first time in a century, if not ever, the US attacked a non-combatant country. We lost far more than the lives of our servicemen and women in that conflict. We lost the moral high ground. We became the aggressors.
President Obama has taken that perogative and has multiplied it. With the use of Predator drones, primarily used by the CIA, Obama has called for the killing of certain individuals, one of which was arguably a US citizen and was killed because he was supposed to have been connected to various terrorist activities. It should be profoundly troubling to a disciple of Christ that the President of the US would order such a strike against anyone who has not been absolutely confirmed to have been a combatant against the US, but to do so against someone born in the States and without the due process of law is blood chilling.
So I turn now to the question that forms the title of this post. If young person came to me with this question today, my counsel would be to consider seriously the duty you may be called to perform. In the words of the commercial, this is not your father’s military. The military today is being used as a political billy club to achieve goals set by the President and his closest advisors. If the last time a legal war was declared was in 1941, that should be enough of a warning that it would be very difficult for a Christian to argue for the concept of a just war. It cannot be just if it was not legally declared by the Congress of the United States. If the modern assignments that a young person is called to perform are aggressive and no longer defensive then we need to reconsider if a Christian can serve in good conscience.
However, if young person does decide to serve in the military then I would have the following advice. Serve your country honorably. Remember you are a child of God. Work to restore or expand the honor that comes from your oath to your country. There are still functions that the military serves that can be used to further God’s kingdom. Choose your path of service wisely. Be a beacon of light in your company. Share the love of Jesus everywhere you go. Remember you are a prisoner of Jesus before you are a soldier or sailor. And remember that you have a higher calling than your immediate superior, and if you receive a command that violates your confession of Jesus as Lord you are bound to refuse that order, whatever the consequences. Do not lose your faith or your humanity over the whims of a human commander in chief.
And finally, I must question the consistency in thought and behavior of absolute pacifists who live in safe, protected country and yet complain about the use of force, whether it be the police department that keeps them and their families safe at night, or the men and women who wear their country’s military uniform and perform the same function. Obviously they have the right to proclaim their beliefs – and our country is built upon the principle of freedom of speech. But to me it sounds just a little hypocritical for me to use a police force and a military to keep me safe, and then for me to criticize that police department and military as being un-Christian and therefore demonic. To protest the illegitimate use of that force is one thing – to argue that it should not even exist is something entirely different and, in my understanding, goes beyond the teaching of Scripture.
I do not like the use that the two most recent presidents have made of our military. I believe they have betrayed the mission of the US military. But I honor and respect the men and women who proudly wear the uniform and make it possible for me to type this blog in freedom. Many disciples of Christ wear the uniform of their country, and I can find no Scripture that denies them that right. They carry the cross where it otherwise might not go, and for that I pray for them and ask God’s protection for them.
In my last post I mentioned that I was reading Lee C. Camp’s book, Mere Disicpleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (Brazos Press, 2008). I made it clear that I do not believe an absolute pacifism can pass a consistent theological test. I believe the Biblical message (including, but not solely limited to Matthew 5-7) is far more nuanced and requires a greater degree of reflection than a “one size fits all” rejection of force, which I believe Camp falls prey to.
However, as I mentioned in my post, I believe Camp gives a thoughtful presentation of his views, and I believe he must be heard. This is not an easy subject, and while I believe Camp’s conclusions are flawed, that does not mean that his message is without value. Hopefully I can explain these views adequately.
Camp is right to point out the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount. I agree with him that if modern disciples of Christ would fully live with that sermon in their minds and on their hearts it would profoundly change the church in America and throughout the world. I especially liked Camp’s chapter on baptism and the radical change that it should make in a person’s life. Even among Churches of Christ we have taught the necessity of baptism without fully exploring the meaning of the practice as it relates to discipleship. Camp’s call for Radical Christianity is reminiscent of John R.W. Stott’s call for counter-cultural Christianity, again based on the Sermon on the Mount. My problem with Camp is not where he started, or what he said after he started. My problem with his theology is that he stopped far too early. He never placed Jesus within the larger context of the Biblical story, especially that of the prophets. And he did not (in my opinion) adequately deal with Paul and Peter’s later instructions via the Holy Spirit as to how the Christian is to relate to the kingdom of this world.
The prophets never criticized the Israelite or foreign leadership because they held authority. They did not criticize them for exercising that authority, even when it was exercised in the form of battle. Where the prophets criticized the Israelite and foreign leaders was when they used their authority to hurt innocent victims or when they failed to use that authority to protect the innocent. This is a nuance that Camp and absolute pacifists completely miss. God entrusted human governments with authority in order to maintain basic human dignity. When that dignity is destroyed God reacted in judgment, whether it was against Israel, Judah, Syria, Assyria, Babylon or Egypt (see especially the first chapter and a half of the prophet Amos). The relationship to false religion was not to be missed. When you worship false gods you abuse people. When you worship the true God you protect and nurture people.
The same message should be preached today. As I tried to point out in my last post, the use of force is not the issue that absolute pacifists try to make it out to be. They want all force to be abolished, not fully comprehending that if that were to take place the world would fall into absolute anarchy (literally, no rule). We need (and I believe Camp would ultimately have to agree) a police force, and they need to be given the right to use necessary force to detain, arrest and prosecute offenders. So with a military. We need to have a military to protect and defend our peaceful existance.
Now, has that military been used for illegitimate reasons? Absolutely! In the past decade we have witnessed a staggering increase in the power of the president and a corresponding decrease in the willingness of the Congress to enforce our constitution. President Bush attacked a nation that had not attacked this country, and was far from being able to even seriously threaten it. President Obama has expanded the power of the presidency to include killing certain individuals, even citizens of the US, who have been deemed to be a threat, regardless of any legal protections they may or may not deserve. We have come a long, long way from defending the country against imperialist aggressors such as Hitler and Hirohito to using unmanned drones to assassinate suspected terrorists, all for political gain.
We need a national discussion on this topic, one that is equal parts Biblical, theological, and practical. Absolutes simply will not work. The biblical record is far too nuanced to be summarized in one three chapter sermon, even if that sermon was given by Jesus. The question that Camp raises is legitimate and he gives a compelling defense of his position. I heartily recommend everyone read this book. Whether you agree with Camp or not you will benefit from wrestling with the issue.
David Lipscomb wrestled long and hard with this issue, particularly because he lived during the darkest days of the Civil War. I have read and deeply respect Lipscomb’s views on the role of the citizen disciple. But Lipscomb was writing to Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Lipscomb was never confronted by Heinrich Himmler or Adolf Hitler. We have seen the holocaust of the Civil War and the holocaust of Nazi Germany. Somewhere between those two extremes I believe we must find the theologically sound prism by which we can discern how to respond to an evil aggressor in this world.
Peace and wisdom to all.
I am currently reading Lee C. Camp’s book, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (Brazos Press, 2008). Camp is a student of John Howard Yoder, and the book is a powerful presentation of the pacifist viewpoint that all violence, especially that of war, is wrong. I enjoy reading authors who know their position and state it forcefully and elegantly. Camp does both.
While I am not an advocate of “my country right or wrong,” and I believe there needs to be a serious discussion of the relationship between the disciple of Christ and the state, I believe Camp’s argument is deeply flawed. That is to say Camp so stresses the “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy” passages (Mt. 5:38-48) that he rejects any use of force. The Christian life is to be a life of non-violence and non-retaliation. But I wonder just how far Camp is willing to take his “ivory-towered” theology. I have some questions for Mr. Camp, and those who hold unswervingly to a philosophy of total pacifism and non-violence.
- Do absolute pacifists believe in the right of a state to organize and maintain a police department? That is, can a state protect its citizens from the lawless by creating a force that is given the mandate to restrain, arrest, and if necessary kill an assailant who is or has been suspected in perpetrating a crime against an innocent citizen?
- If you believe that the state is legitimate in creating this force, and if you were to witness a crime being committed, (let’s say a violent mugging or a rape), what would your response be? Would you, as a supreme act of non-violence, turn the other cheek and simply walk away, knowing that God can defend the victim, and if he chooses not to, too bad for the victim? Or would you retreat to a safe distance and then report the crime, hoping that the police could arrive to protect the victim before he/she was ultimately killed? Or would you seek to intervene, putting your own life at risk in the hopes that you might be able to protect the victim? If you intervene to save the life of a defenseless victim, are you not violating Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies?
- In the event that the perpetrator was arrested and stood trial, and you were subpoenaed to give testimony to what you witnessed, would you participate in a trial in which the state was seeking to use its ultimate power to incarcerate or perhaps execute the alleged criminal? If you do, are you not then participating in a state-sponsored act of retaliation, judging, condemning and punishment? And if you do not, what is your responsibility to the victim of the crime? Have you not forsaken your love for the weak and defenseless?
- Now, let’s broaden that one small example to a global one. Is there not a responsibility for a stronger nation to defend a weaker nation in the face of overwhelming aggression? What about an ethnic group that faces genocide? Is a stronger nation simply to stand back and watch an entire nation or ethnic group be butchered simply because we are to love the perpetrators of the genocide? Does the command to turn the other cheek mean that we have to pretend that the gas chambers and murdering fields of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau and Treblinka and Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen simply did not exist? What of the commands to defend the fatherless, the weak, the poor, the despised?
In other words, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered, only those who stand up for the Jews can sing the Gregorian chants.
This world is a complicated place. I obviously do not have all the answers. But the absolute pacifism that I read about in Camp’s book (among others) simply cannot be sustained. If he is correct, and if he is true to his fundamental beliefs, then he cannot support a police force “to protect and serve.” He cannot support a judicial system that uses incarceration, let alone capital punishment. He cannot support jails, prisons or penitentiaries. He cannot support judges or meter maids, for all of these things are examples of a state exerting force over its citizens. Ultimately there is no difference between a Navy Seal and the county deputy. Both are given mandates from the state to protect and to serve, and both are given the right to use force if that force is necessary to protect and to serve.
I find it interesting that absolute pacifists focus entirely on Mt. 5-7 and only rarely discuss Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all had discussions with or confrontations with Roman Centurions. Never once did they tell that Centurion that military service is, by its nature, sinful and should be avoided. Should a soldier obey every order? No, no more than any other Christian should obey any directive that is given to them by their superior.
I like Bonhoeffer’s solution to the problem of evil much better than Camp’s. Bonhoeffer noted that when you see a wheel running over a defenseless victim it does no good to tell the driver to stop, or to run around gathering bandages to staunch the bleeding of the victim. Sometimes you have to ram a stick in the spokes of the wheel. Sometimes you have to assassinate the Adolf Hitlers of the world. Sometimes you have to act decisively, and trust in the grace of God to accept your actions or to forgive you for your sins.
Bonhoeffer is among the finest exegetes of the Sermon on the Mount that I have read. He died in a German concentration camp. Lee Camp claims to understand the Sermon on the Mount. Would he have died with Bonhoeffer? Or would he have been having a cup of tea with Neville Chamberlain, the author of the doctrine of appeasment who famously declared “peace in our time”?
I have been working for some time on launching a website where I can not only blog, but also upload sermons, special lessons, have a “message board” type of conversation with my readers,- something that this site does not allow me to do. I must say that I really love my WordPress site, and would wholeheartedly recommend this blogging site. The other folks, not so much. I am not going to reveal my antagonists, simply because I do not want to generate any more hits to their misleading (in my opinion) website.
What finally made me deal with these folks was a promise – the site would just be so easy to use. Clear instructions, easy to follow tutorials – why, anyone who knew how to use a keyboard could have their site up and running in days. Now, mind you, I am not a dummy. I have two Masters degrees and I am more than half-way through a Doctoral degree. This blog is evidence enough to show I know my way around a keyboard, and even if it is somewhat amateurish, I have no problem with that. In Latin “amateur” simply refers to one who loves. I love to do what I do, and if it is not professional then I can at least say it comes with a lot of love. So, back to my story, I signed the contract and started what I thought would be a journey into website euphoria.
Big mistake. “Easy to use” was simply a clever abbreviation of the true statement, “Easy to use if you have an advanced degree in Information Technology.” I have a really, really nice looking home page and nothing else because I cannot figure out how to set up or configure any of my subsequent pages. The techies are only too happy to assist me, at a rate that varies between $75.00 – $150.00 an hour or more. I am beginning to think the entire process is set up for the little guy to fail and look stupid, so that he/she has to turn to the experts, who can then charge an exorbitant fee to solve what in reality should be a fairly simple problem. I am not a happy camper, but I signed on the dotted line so I really have no one to blame but myself.
How does this relate to theology? I am so glad you asked, dear friend!
How many times have you felt put off or made to feel stupid by an “expert” in theology who promises that his/her system is perfectly “easy to use” only to discover it is only “easy to use” by that theologian? Or, how many churches have you attended that promised “easy to use” worship or Bible study sessions, only to discover that you have to be an insider with years of experience in order to use the “easy to use” worship or Bible class?
And, more to the point in my life, how many times have I said the very same thing, only to have someone tell me, “yeah, that is easy for you to say.”
I remember in my student pilot days, while I was training for my instrument rating, I rode along in the back seat during a training flight with another student. He was ready for his check ride, and he was GOOD! The altimeter looked like it was frozen in place at his assigned altitude (not an easy trick in a C-172 in the hot and windy conditions of Oklahoma City) and every procedure was performed beautifully. I was truly impressed. He made flying instrument procedures LOOK easy. Believe me, those procedures are NOT easy. There is a huge difference.
If we as preachers, teachers, Bible school teachers or just every-day Christians tell the “unchurched” that the Christian life is easy we are flat-out lying. Some people may make it LOOK easy, but for the beginner or the total outsider the Christian life is anything but easy. We should back up and examine what we are really saying. Just compare how many times Jesus said, “Follow me and everything will be a piece of cake” compared to “Before you decide to follow me, you had better do some serious thinking and decide if you are willing to pay the price.”
With my website I failed to do due diligence. I signed before I examined, and I have paid the price big time. I seriously doubt the site will ever be functional.
I never, ever, ever, want to tell someone that if they become a disciple of Christ that everything will be easy and that the path to Christian discipleship is “easy to use.” Much assembly is required, and the assistance, love and guidance of a healthy Christian family (a church) is mandatory. Failure is anticipated, but forgiveness and restoration is limitless. I want everyone to know the teacher from Galilee. HIS promises are the only ones worth believing!
Blessed has a different meaning to us today than it did in the New Testament times, just as happiness had a different meaning in the Constitution as it does for us today. However, the Greek word makar or makarios, simply means happy or happiness – and is translated as such several times in the New Testament.
I appreciated the comment and told my respondent that I would research the word. Note to those who challenge someone (myself included!) – be careful what you ask for, you might receive it!
As a result of my study I found 55 uses of the word family “makarios.” If we subtract the references in Matthew and Luke related to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (in this case it is improper to argue for the legitimacy of evidence by using the disputed term as evidence) we are left with 42 uses. Of these 42 uses I determined that there were all of 5 passages where the word “happy” or “happiness” might be more appropriate than the more theologically pregnant term, “blessed.” (My list – Luke 1:45, Acts 26:2, 1 Cor. 7:40, Gal. 4:15, and Rev. 19:9) I want to stress, however, that I believe that with the possible exception of Acts 26:2 and 1 Cor. 7:40 the word “blessed” or “blessing” is a far better choice, even though “happy” might possibly fit. And even in those two passages the background of the word “blessing” is what gives the word its more emotional tinge – we are fortunate or happy because we are blessed, we are not blessed because we are happy!
Many passages are simply incomprehensible if we translate the word “happy”. Consider Mt. 13:16. Happy eyes and ears? Consider 1 Tim. 1:11 or 6:15. Happy God? The happy and only Sovereign? Or consider the circumstances under which a person is considered to be blessed – James 1:12, 1 Peter 3:14, 4:14. We are happy if we are under trial, suffer, and are insulted? In fact, I might add here that the 7 “Beatitudes” of the book of Revelation are all pronounced to a people in the context of suffering and martyrdom. And this leads me to perhaps the coup de grace of all the passages – Rev. 14:13. I just have not seen that many corpses who are ecstatically happy. I know, I know – the passage does not deal with the physical body, but still, how can someone who is dead be happy? Blessed, yes; they receive their reward. But happy?
Many passages indicate the forward-looking or “yet to be” aspect of the word. Consider Mt. 24:46 and the parallels in Luke 11:28, 12:37,38 and 12:43. Others, notably Mt. 16:17, speak of an immediate blessing, which cannot relate to happiness but is founded upon a pivotal theological or Christological truth (see also Rom. 4:7, a quote from Ps. 32:1-2).
So I return to my previous argument. We (and I speak of translators, preachers, teachers, etc.) must be extremely careful of the words we choose. I am only aware of the fact that I choose the wrong words all too frequently. To use the word “happy” to translate the word used in Mt. 5, Ps. 1, et. al., is to distort the meaning of the word. Context demands the use of a different word. Maybe “blessed” is not the best word. Maybe there is a better word out there in the English language. I am all for making the word of God clear and understandable. But I never want to sacrifice accuracy for the transient goal of being contemporary. It is okay to be happy. It is okay to be unhappy. It is an immediate and eternal gift to be blessed. No one wants to experience the polar opposite of “blessing” – the wrath of God.