Occasionally I will be talking to someone about some fortunate circumstance of my and/or my family’s life, and I will say something like, “We’ve been lucky,” and the person I’m talking to will gently correct me and say, “Not lucky–blessed.” Well, yes, fine, if you prefer: “blessed”–but lucky to have been blessed in this particular way. Surely there are others out there, no better or worse than we, who have not been “blessed” quite as we have.
It would be easy, for example, to ascribe our financial “blessings” to our obedience to the law of tithing, were it not for all those other faithful tithe payers who are still struggling to make ends meet. I trust they’re getting their share of other, less tangible blessings–but this disparity in kind is a mystery that I prefer to call “luck” because it is the term I feel comfortable with.
They say God won’t give us any trial we can’t handle. I’ve often wondered what would happen if God did give us a trial we couldn’t handle. Would we spontaneously combust? I think this is just a cute way of saying that with God all things are possible. It may well be that God is sitting up there in heaven and saying, “Well, the Smith boy should go into remission now because his parents aren’t very strong, but the Jones boy can get hit by a bus because his folks can ‘handle’ it.” Even so, I don’t want to think about it.
It’s worth noting that Jesus never said, “I won’t give you any hardship you can’t handle.” He did say, “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.”
Pat Robertson is the low-hanging fruit this news cycle. When he said that Haiti suffers because of a pact somebody made with Satan back in the day, everyone predictably jumped on him–with good reason, because seriously, who says crap like that? This article, while not a defense of Robertson’s remarks, gives them some context (beyond “Dude’s a nutjob”). It’s a natural human tendency to explain evil, to rationalize suffering. It’s why people insist, all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism and that the prevalence of breast cancer is due to the fact that it afflicts mostly women. We’re suffering and we want, need to be angry, and anger needs an object; we’ll take whichever one is convenient, whether it’s sensible or not. The injustice of most of the world’s suffering is so offensive that we can’t bear the thought that it might be random; after all, if it’s random, what’s to stop it from happening to us?
Sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know why. Sometimes good things happen and we still don’t know why. We ask, “Why Haiti?” but we don’t ask its companion question: “Why not us?” Surely God punishing folks for their sins isn’t unheard of, so why aren’t more of us suffering? Specifically, why am I not suffering more? As I said, it’s a mystery, and a very difficult one to accept, actually. Confronted with the fact that life isn’t fair, some reject religious faith altogether, while others go to great lengths to explain God’s apparent tolerance for evil but never quite succeed. Ultimately our faith is trust that God is good and just and that our puny mortal minds can’t wrap themselves around the whys and wherefores of divine goodness and justice. “If I knew Him, I’d be Him.” There’s no pretty way to affirm God’s existence and simultaneously admit that his “blessing” patterns don’t make a lot of sense.
I understand that when people say they’ve been blessed, they are expressing their gratitude to God. It’s a well-known fact that God hates ingratitude. When I hear someone say they are “blessed,” as opposed to merely “lucky,” I don’t think they are implying that they’ve somehow earned this blessing. I don’t have a problem with the word “blessing” or “blessed.” I have a problem with being corrected on the word “luck.” If I say someone is unlucky, no one is going to correct me and say, “Not unlucky–cursed.” (Well, with the possible exception of Pat Robertson.) Certainly this is a personal problem, but I can’t say “blessed” without wondering, “Why me?” and “Why not someone else?” As a consequence I don’t use the word much in the context of whatever good has happened to me but rather whatever good I hope will happen to somebody else. I suppose “luck” is just my shorthand for “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
Blessed be the name of the Lord.