One of the most impactful books I’ve read in quite a while is Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. As a priest and professor, Nouwen writes in a compelling way that touches both head and heart.
This little book takes four words and uses them to explain our spiritual identity. In my previous post, I wrote about the idea of being taken – or chosen – by God. When we see ourselves as chosen by God, we no longer feel accidental or incidental. This perspective is foundational to a healthy spiritual life.
The next word is just as important:
“The feeling of being accursed comes easily. We easily hear an inner voice calling us evil, bad, rotten, worthless, useless, doomed to sickness and death. Isn’t it easier for us to believe that we are cursed than that we are blessed?” – Nouwen
“There is little or no neutral territory between the land of the blessed and the land of the cursed. You have to choose where it is that you want to live, and that choice is one that you have to keep making from moment to moment.” – Nouwen
In the most general sense, as a creation of God, you are blessed. This is true even if a person does not believe in God or Jesus. They may not call the morning sunrise or the food on their table a blessing, but it is. The rain falls on the believing farmer and non-believing farmer alike.
As a follower of Jesus, you are most certainly blessed. Our entrance into Jesus himself is through an undeserved blessing called grace. God’s unmerited favor towards us is one of life’s most mysterious blessings because it runs counter to the way we think and act. Without the influence of the Holy Spirit, we tend to treat nicely those who have treated us nicely – which is not unmerited favor in any way.
But God’s blessing doesn’t stop the moment after we are saved.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. – Ephesians 1:3
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7
Since the third chapter of Genesis, humankind has lived with the reality of The Fall. This monumental separation from God dramatically changed the nature of human experience. With one decision, we went from paradise to an existence that now includes toil, struggle, pain, and death.
But the fall did more than drive a spiritual wedge between people and God. It was all-encompassing. The fall damaged everything from our physical well-being to how we think and how the earth behaves. We are fallen people living in a fallen world.
As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the rest of human history has been living under a curse. The curse is not a magic spell but the reality that things are broken. Our way of thinking is broken. Human interactions are broken. I am broken. Until the return of Jesus when he sets everything right, I will never be one hundred percent completely whole — in every way, all the time.
Science has made tremendous strides. People still die. The common cold is still very much common. This is not a statement about abilities or intentions. It is the reality of living in a broken world that requires divine healing.
As fallen people living in a fallen world, it is very easy to see ourselves as anything but blessed. In fact, our human nature is drawn to the negative. Whether it be political news or personal gossip, we find the negative much more compelling than the positive. We don’t gossip about the good deeds of others; in fact, I’m not sure that would qualify as gossip!
This is why we tear others down and beat ourselves up.
Apart from Jesus, we are left with only broken images of who we are and what we can be. Perhaps we’ve seen the outside of the puzzle box and have an idea what our lives could look like – but inside the box, more than a few pieces are missing.
It’s one thing to be broken and not know it. It’s another to know you are broken and to not be able to fix yourself.
The gospel is about Jesus changing all of that. He died to reverse the curse.
We are not, however, magically lifted from the influences of this fallen world when we give ourselves to Jesus. We are formerly fallen people who have been made a new creation while still living in our old environment. In Nouwen’s words, we must continually choose between the “land of the blessed and the land of the cursed” — and recognize this is not physical land he is referring to, but the land that exists in our hearts and minds.
While we living in and around the effects of the fall, through Jesus we have been set free — free from the old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. In one sense, we are resurrected people living in a world that is still dying. Without Jesus, we would be without hope.
But we have been redeemed from the former ways of life and have been resurrected into a new life, although the shadows of the old life are still around us.
Do you see yourself as blessed … or cursed?