BLESSING: A Scriptural and Theological Reflection

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009

In May, 2007 the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada issued a Pastoral Statement on same-sex blessings. At the end of the statement, the bishops made the following request:

“Looking ahead, we ask the Primate and General Synod for a report on:

  1. The theological question whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine (St. Michael Report)
  2. The implications of the blessing of same-sex unions and /or marriage for our church and the Communion (The Windsor Report)
  3. Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.”

The reflections that follow are a contribution to the discussion that this requested report has engendered.  Rather than look broadly at the question of same-sex blessings, my remarks concentrates on the Scriptural meaning of blessing as it has been taken up by the Church, and provides some preliminary evaluations of how this meaning applies to the question of same-sex blessings.

1.  Blessing in the OT

Blessing in the OT is designated pretty much exclusively by the Hebrew verb barak – as in the US President’s first name.  A “blessing”, in the singular, is berakah.  The Talmudic tractate devoted to blessings is called Berakoth – blessings – and provides a profound elaboration of the theology of blessing in Jewish terms.  (There is nothing comparable in Christian writing.)  We shall turn to this tractate a little later.

What does the verb barak actually mean?  There are various theories:  Break down [into pieces];  kneel;  Hence “adore”.    Does if associated with the bent knee, does the word derive somehow from the knee viewed as “seat of fertility” or erotic encounter (according to some older views;  cf. Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee)?  Etymologically, the question as a whole is shrouded in mystery.

In passing one might note that the notion of God “kneeling” to us in the world is amazingly Christological!  That God should “bless” us, is odd, in a sense, and represents a profound and almost disturbing paradox of love. But the paradox itself is at the base of the Scriptural understanding of creation and, of course, of redemption.  (We will return to this briefly at our conclusion.)

Before going further, though, let us just flag a linguistic issue:  the Hebrew notion of blessing, barak, is bound to a very rich theological set of semantic contruals.  But the NT notion of blessing seems on the surface to be much thinner.  We’ll come back to this point, but now only to say that the NT Greek is almost exclusively bound to the word eulogeo, or “speaking well” of something – praise, flattery, compliments, and so on.  This is the word used in the Greek OT to translate barak, however, and it is the word used in the NT everywhere, virtually, that the English word, “blessing” is found as a translation.  If we want to know how the NT construes blessing – and hence the Christian faith – we must look into the Hebrew, for it fills out what is otherwise a rather hollow Greek term.

So let us begin with the OT’s central understanding of blessing.

In the first place, and fundamentally, blessing is God’s to give.  It is a divine action or character.

This appears for the first time in the creation narrative, at the end of the description of the 5th day, in which God creates swarms of sea animals, and birds, and sea monsters.  And we read:  Gen 1:21-23:  And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

We will see this pattern repeated then, on the 6th day, and then the 7th, and then in what follows in the first history of humankind.  God creates human beings in his own image, male and female “he created them”: “ Gen 1:28  And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Again, Gen 2:3 says:  “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.

When Genesis provides an early summary of human creation, in Gen 5:1-2, we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.  When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.  Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.”  Or, after the flood, Gen 9:1, “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”.  Finally, in the initial calling of Abram, in Gen 12:2, we read, “Not the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  And for the first time, a human being, a creature, becomes “a blessing” for others, mediating God’s own work of blessing.

Now there are a number of clear constants here that uphold the notion of blessing:  God creates purposefully;  that creating and creation is “good”, in the sense that the purpose is fulfilled, and it gives rise especially to “fruitfulness” and “multiplication”.  Blessing is life created by and from God, a life that gives life and extends life. Hence the traditional Jewish blessing, la-chaim!, which we know from the Fiddler on the Roof.   And to the degree that a creature is a blessing, like Abram, it is so according to the same mode – as an instrument of God’s creative life-giving extension in the world, in this case, to the “nations”.

Cf. in Gen. 48, when the aging Jacob blesses his two grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim.  Despite the fact that Manasseh is the older of the two boys, and over Joseph’s objections, he gives the younger of the two – Ephraim – the primary blessing. Why?  Often viewed in terms of retrospective political outcome of the tribes involved;  but Jewish tradition made clear the issue lay in the name:  fruitfulness, which is intrinsically tied to blessing (vs. Manasseh, or “forgetfulness”).  Blessing is primarily the act of God in creating life, sustaining it, and extending or propagating it.  By contrast, the notion of “curseing” (qalal) seems to imply “thinning out” reality, making it light and superfluous, and finally lifeless.

2.  Blessing and the Law

I believe that this sets up, in a very comprehensive fashion, a complete Scriptural theology for the OT, one that sustains itself in its relation to the NT and Gospel as well.  This is so particularly in the OT’s understanding of the Law.  When God sees that the light is “good” (Gen. 1:4) and all the rest of his creation is “good”, the word used (towb), is the same word used of the law (cf. Ps. 119:39; Neh. 9:13 etc.).  It is the word Paul evidently translates when he says that the “law and commandment is holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12).  It is good;  it is the Law.  And, as you may know, Judaism traditionally considered the Torah, the Law, to hold all of creation within the particular ordering of its letters and words.  The Law is life-creating.

Furthermore, it is this goodness of creative life that stands behind the “blessing” that is given in the Law’s fulfillment, as shown in the crucial texts of e.g. Deuteronomy 27-28, where Moses commands the people to “keep all the commandments which I command you this day” (27:1), in order that they may be “blessed” and not “cursed”.  And note the character of this blessing:  “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”  Life, fruitfulness, plenty and abundance.

Properly speaking, then, the Law gives life, and is, in a real sense, itself life.  The entire Levitical legal framework is based on this reality, from the laws of sexual relation, the laws of leprosy, the laws of distinction and difference, the laws of planting, the laws of family life, to the laws of the land and so on:  all are based on the character of life given, received, and reiterated.  Fruitfulness is the purpose of the Law; by the same token, the shape of fruitfulness is given through the forms of the Law.  It is not fruitfulness in general, but the fruitfulness that comes in the form that the Law provides.

This is a key point to bear in mind, and one in the face of which, I believe, many contemporary discussions of “blessing” go wrong.  For instance, “Claiming the Blessing” – a movement in the US Episcopal Church that advocates for same-sex blessings — gets right an essential aspect of blessing:  “blessing,” barak, means at its core the awesome power of life itself”, the group writes.  It also rightly speaks of this life as being properly lived in relationship with God, in terms of “covenant”:  “[Blessing] describes the results of the hallowed, right, just relationship between God and humankind. Blessing is what happens when God and humankind live in covenant”.  But the statement avoids all mention of the Law itself, instead preferring to speak in terms of an abstracted principle, “justice”.  (see  http://www.claimingtheblessing.org/publications.html)  But that is just what the OT does not do:  the particularities of the Law are given for the sake of life.

Keeping the law is a blessing, is blessing itself – bound to God’s life and will and fullness of character.  Hence, the explanation given for the rather offensive-seeming benediction every Jewish male was asked to give on arising each day, “Blessed art Thou, Who hast not made me a woman!”.  “A bishop once asked a Rabbi:  ‘why does the Jew bless God for not making him a Gentile?  Does this not show hatred?’.  ‘Not at all,’ answered the Rabbi.  ‘We love our womenfolk, and yet we recite a similar blessing concerning them.  The reason for the blessings is that a woman and a non-Jew have fewer Mitzwoth to perform” – that is fewer laws of goodness to fulfill, and therefore less means of entry into the fullness of God’s character.  The more the law is fulfilled, in its almost quantifiable breadth, the greater the blessing.

We can look at the whole perspective of the Psalter set out in Psalm 1.  This opening Psalm lays before us the fullness of the subsequent hymns (and of human life in the process):  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night”.  The word translated as “blessed” here is not in fact barak, but esher, which is sometimes translated as “happy” (as in the equivalent of the Beatitudes – “happy” are the poor in spirit, etc..).  But the point regarding the law is laid out clearly, for “happiness” is a mark of blessing, and it is given in the keeping of the law itself, as not only the OT shows us (see also the opening verse of Ps. 119; 94:12; 112:1), but even the NT (cf. James 1:15, where the doer of the law is makarios, blessed as in the Beatitudes).  And the result is, of course, fruitfulness:  “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither”.    And we should note here as well that “fruitfulness”, rather than simply “life”,  is spoken of, because “life” is understood in Biblical terms as “multiplying”, that is, as “procreative” – another key point to be made within the discussion of same-sex blessings in particular.  God “blessed” because God “gives me his statutes” (Ps. 119:12), and thereby deals “bountifully” or “fruitfully’ with His servants (Ps. 119:17).  Moses blessing of the people before his death brings all of this together, beginning with a berakah (Deut. 33;1), that derives from the acts of God’s salvation,  is embodied in the Law, and shown in fruitfulness to the tribes of Israel, and finally is dubbed “happiness” itself (the esher of 33:29).

3.  Blessing God

Now:  this is the blessing of God, from God to us.  What does it mean for a human being to “bless” in his or her turn?

The first thing to be said, is that generally a human being, in the OT and its following tradition, offers a “blessing” primarily to and of God!  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Ps. 103:1).  “O House of Israel, bless the Lord!  O house of Aaron, bless the Lord!” (Ps. 135:19).

What could it mean to bless God, if God is the one who gives life and founds what a blessing is in its very nature?  This specific question has exercised Jewish tradition.  And the clear explanation given is a simple one:  to “bless” God is a kind of extended act of the original divine blessing,  it is to live the life given in the proper relationship of dependent recipient – to receive life, that is, faithfully.  Hence, the use of the term barak for the act of a human agent, is generally synonymous with just these elements:  thanksgiving and obedience.  Indeed, the word barak as a verb of human agency is interchangeable with the word “thanksgiving”.

We can observe how this is the case in English with respect to the prayers said at meals:  we will say “who will give the thanksgiving (or ‘grace”)?”  or “who will give the blessing?”.   They mean the same thing, bless or thank.  To utter a blessing of God is to define our relationship to God rightly – to thank, to adore, to obey.

It is from this that all the “blessings” flow that human beings in fact give.  And so the common phrase, including in  Ps. 96:8:  “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!”  To bless is to acknowledge and praise God.

Hence the first and central place of blessing God comes with respect to God’s provision for life – food.  Deut. 8: 10:  “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”  Cf. saying blessings or “grace” after meals.  The blessings over meals  (Berakoth, 20b) become the foundational area of prayers of blessing within Judaism and Christianity.    And on it devolves the moral character of obedience to the Law of God that sustains and extends such divine care and provision.  Hence, Berakoth cites foundationally  Deut. 10:17ff.:  “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him and cleave to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude.”
To bless God is to display who God is and what God has done and how we stand before God – to lay this out before the eyes of others and of the world.  So, for instance, Aidan Steinsaltz explains the law blessings in the Talmud:  The whole world belongs to God; and a blessing is an act seeking “permission” to enjoy it.  Blessings are given mainly over food and other “pleasures”.  “O Lord of the Universe”, many Jewish blessings begin – that is, I proclaim that all belongs to you!  All is received from you!  “What do you have that you did not receive?”, asks Paul in 1 Cor. 4:7, referring first of all to the primary reality that founds the Jewish consciousness of God in the world.

But blessings over evil as we experience it are also enjoined, because of the exclusive character (vs. dualistic outlook) of God’s sovereignty:  cf. Is. 45:7:  “I form the light and create darkness:  I make peace and create evil, I the Lord do all these things” (a verse that is always said in regular Jewish  prayer service).

Hence, in the Midrash on the Psalms writes:  “To thee, O Lord, will I sing” (Ps. 101:1):  R. Huna in the name of R. Aha said:  David said to God, ‘If thou showest me grace, I will sing to thee;  and if thou dealest me out judgment, I will sing to the; whether this way or that, to thee, O Lord, will I sing.’  R. Judah b. Palia said:  So too said Job, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took;  may the Lord’s name be blessed;  if he gave it was he alone;  if he took, it was He and His tribunal;  blessed be He when He gave, and blessed be He when He took;  whether this way or that, the Lord’s name be blessed”.

Let me lay out how the Mishnah – the original legal material upon which the Talmud provides commentary — lists the experiential realm in which one blesses God (or gives a blessing!).

  • 54a:  MISHNAH. If one sees a place where miracles have been wrought for Israel, he should say, Blessed be He who wrought miracles for our ancestors in this place.
  • On seeing a place from which idolatry has been extirpated, he should say, Blessed be He who extirpated idolatry from our land.
  • [On witnessing] shooting stars, earthquakes, thunderclaps, storms and lightnings one should say, Blessed be He whose strength and might fill the world.
  • On seeing mountains, hills, seas, rivers, and deserts he should say, Blessed be He who wrought creation.  R. Judah says:  If one sees the great sea one should say, Blessed be He who made the great sea, [that is] if he sees it at [considerable] intervals.
  • For rain and for good tidings one says, Blessed be He that is good and bestows good.  For evil tidings one says, Blessed be the true judge.
  • One who has built a new house or bought new vessels says, Blessed be He who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this season.
  • Over evil a blessing is said similar to that over good and over good a blessing is said similar to that over evil.  But to cry over the past is to utter a vain prayer. [transl. Maurice Simon, Soncino Press edition]

4.  Blessing others or things

We bless God for what He does and is.  We bless “things” only in relationship to this.  Indeed, as the previous examples show, Jewish “blessings” are actually spoken of with God as their object.  On a more primary level I have argued that, in the case of food and so on, to say that we give a “blessing” over it, or “bless it”, is really a shorthand form of saying “we bless – or thank or acknowledge — God for it”.

This needs to be stressed: when we “bless” a meal, we are not invoking a divine power to make it taste good, or to make sure that we don’t choke on it or that it doesn’t have bacterial infection. We are certainly not thanking the food, or its biological source, as certain Amerindian cultures do.

But that is not quite the case when we “bless” other things, including people.  What is going on in that case?  Well, precisely an invocation of God’s power, and a power that is understood as operating in a certain direction.  The Rabbis were clear about this:  a human blessing is a petition.  As the Magelnitzer Rabbi said, when I bless “I implore the Lord to have compassion upon the supplicant, and to grant his or her desire”.    But this is only in the sense of praying that God’s will be done for this person, much as Jesus’ prayer points out:  they will be done, on earth as on heaven. There are many stories of Rabbis whose blessings are sought on enterprises of ill-will or dishonesty, as if asking a holy person could somehow provide better access to God’s manipulation of events in one’s favor.   [See Louis Newman’s Hasidic Anthology, New York:  Schocken, 1963, pp. 20-21]

But, as the Magelnitzer Rabbi also said: “My blessing on behalf of an undeserving person or for an illegal prupose must necessarily prove futile, since the Lord will refuse my petition”.  Refuse it – and if knowingly requested, treat it as blasphemy.   The image is that of false prophecy, when a prophet says that “God is doing this or that” when in fact God is not, a topic much discussed in Jeremiah (cc. 14, 23, 28 etc.):  “I did not send these prophets, yet they ran” (Jer. 23:21), and as a result they trade in “lies”, speaking “peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6;14; 8:11 etc.) – peace or shalom being very much an aspect of “blessing”.  Such lying about blessing, as it were, is labeled Jeremiah as “rebellion” (28:16), or karah, a term applied specifically to those who teach others wrongly about the will of God (cf. Deut. 13:5; 19:16).

In short, when one “blesses” someone or something, one is praying for the Lord to bless.  Hence the famous Aaronic “blessing” over the people, still used in Christian churches and viewed – from Luther on – as an equivalent to the Trinitarian blessing: (Num 6:24-27)   “Say to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,  The LORD bless you and keep you: The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  Aaron blesses by asking the Lord to bless.  And it is interesting, the explanation God gives to Moses about this: “So shall they [that is, the priests] put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”   Carrying the “name” of God has to do with assuming the life of God, God’s will, God’s purpose, God’s character.

It is probably not always possible to distinguish clearly the difference between blessing as giving thanks for some created being or event and blessing as praying for God’s will to be gratefully assumed by a creature.  After all, the second depends on the reality of the first being the case.   That is, we can thank God for the mountains and hills, in all their beauty;  but we can also bless these hills, in the sense of having that beauty and created grace display itself fully as God wills.  Which points to a reality even more fundamental:  the things we “bless” are capable of receiving it in part because they are already capable of blessing God as we do – giving thanks, praising, obeying.

Hence, the Psalmist calls on the things of world to “bless” God, their maker and Lord:
(Ps. 103:22):  Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!”  And he can call upon them to do so, because, in a sense, they are made already to do so: (Psa 145:10): All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O LORD, and all thy saints shall bless thee!

There is sense, then, that we bless what is already blessed, by God, and what already thereby blesses God from its own lips – from the rocks and trees to the birds and beasts to the children and infants:  each stands already within the great stream of God’s creative and life-giving purpose;  and each is called forth into it according to this orientation of being.

In a fallen world, of course, this appears mixed up, and really is I suppose:  what we are made to be is somehow dislocated and perverted;  the blessing that is our root of being is derailed, and instead of life, sin and death lie crouching at the door, as God says to Cain (Gen. 4:7).  Crouching, and even sprung.  In this context, a prayer of blessing is a prayer for redemption, not only for thanks;  “thy will be done”, but done in the face of all that rebels against it.  To bless is to “ascribe to the Lord the honor due His name” in this or that particular case and place and person; but also to cry out, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence– as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil–to make thy name known to thy adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at thy presence” (Is. 64:1-2).  Ascribe to the Lord the honor due His name and the honor stolen or withheld from Him.

To this degree, we can see how our blessing did become  a kind of apotropaic – a prayer to ward off evil, holding power in itself, it was thought, like an amulet, depending upon who gave it, an incantation of power, a “spell” even, as in Harry Potter.  But to the degree that a blessing moves in this direction, it becomes itself mired in the very thing it is raised against, that is, the forgetfulness of God’s sovereignty, will, and goodness, already long established, and in which one is called to trust and find life beyond all else.  When Jacob blesses his grandsons, as we mentioned earlier,  he does so not to provide them with a new ring of protection in a dangerous world, but to bring on them, in Moses’ words, the “name of the Lord” in all of its full purpose, that they might receive with grace what is done by the One Who will do what He will do in any case;  that they might be God’s, wholly and utterly, even in the face of evil.  That they might be redeemed and made pure in faith.  To bless is to pray for the transformation and redemption of matter and spirit form the bondage of sin.

By extension, the blessing of objects is bound to this prayer indirectly.  Scripture does not, to my knowledge, have examples of blessing objects other than those bound to the giving of human life:  children, crops, flocks, food, oil, wine (cf. Deut. 7:13).  And in continuity with that, objects that were later blessed, as Talmudic commentary evolved, moved out from this basic category of that which holds a person in life and in the extension of life over time according to the Law of God.  Blessing homes derives from this; blessing the objects of a family’s sustenance;  and so on.

It should be noted, however, that such “blessing” is quite different from what later, especially in Christian circles, came to be loosely called “blessing” with respect to objects used in worship – blessing a cross, for instance, or blessing new liturgical appointments, chalices, and so on.  In the OT, the word used for liturgical objects like this is translated as “consecrate” (in Exod., Numb. Deut.) – quadash  — and refers to “setting aside” for a specific use for God.  We consecreate the vessels of the Temple, we do not “bless” them.  The blessing of homes has nothing to do with this consecration:  it has, in fact, the opposite goal – not to set aside, but to open up to the purposes of God in the world to bring life out of nothing.  When we bless, we are not consecrating at all;  we are making common, as it were, making visible the actual purposes of God’s life.  And, of course, when the Bible speaks of “blessing houses” (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:29), it refers to households or lineages and procreative lines of descent, not buildings.

Blessing in the New Testament

Everything we have said about baraq and berakoth in the Old Testament – and Judaism — pretty much applies to the notion of blessing in the New Testament.  As I noted earlier, the NT word for blessing is less compelling or mysterious anyway – eulogia, or “good speech”, that is, saying something good about another.  But this was the word taken up by Jewish translators of the Scriptures into Greek, and so it acquired more or less the full depth of the Old Testament meaning.

(So as to avoid confusion, let me point out that the word translated in the Beatitudes as “Blessed” – blessed are the poor and so on – is a different word altogether, makarios, that refers to a state of bliss or happiness, and has nothing to do with the subject at hand.)

But eulogia itself does stress something central from the OT’s understanding of blessing:  the sense, as God creates, that “it is good”.   To bless something, in the NT, is to disclose its goodness as from God, as from God’s creative hand for God’s life-giving purpose.

  • So, we see that God “blesses” –  not, in fact, a common usage in the NT, but where it comes (Acts 3:26) and (Heb. 6:14 etc.) it is applied to God blessing the people according to His promises in e.g. Abraham and the prophets.
  • Which, of course, is linked directly with the original OT sense of divine blessing as life-extending.  So, in Hebrews, the issue is God’s blessing is to “multiply” his people (6:14).  God blesses with life and its extension:
  • Now, however, this blessing is given and revealed in the life of Jesus – life, mind you, as something created by grace in the resurrection of the Christ from the grave:  “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26).  God blesses through the redemption in  Christ of fallen life as it moves into death:
  • So, in the NT, Jesus himself now, of course, becomes the center of this blessing.  Here is the focus of “blessing” language in the Gospels and elsewhere: “and [Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42); “Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 13:35);  the crowds on Palm Sunday:  say “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38);  “that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14).
  • In this light, his own blessings of people and “things” becomes central, as in the Eucharist itself, and earlier in the feeding of the Thousands, because these are acts that flow from his own divine person, like “living water” (Jn. 7:38).  Here we find the blessing of life and its redemption brought together in his person:  “And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all” (Mar 6:41);  “And they had a few small fish; and having blessed them, he commanded that these also should be set before them”  (Mar 8:7);  “And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” (Mar 14:22).    And the Risen Jesus turns this blessing to those who follow him quite directly:  “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51).

And now, when the followers of Jesus “bless”, they do so by gathering into his life, and into his form, and into his commandments – through Eucharist, discipleship, and particularly sacrificial love:

  • Eucharist:  So Paul writes of the Eucharist:  “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1Cr 10:16).  “Participation” – koinonia or communion in – is now an issue of discipleship, as where Jesus asks his disciples if they can “drink his cup”, that is the following of the Cross through the baptismal commitment to death to sin and new life (Mk. 10:38-39).
  • b.  discipleship:   the life of the disciple is now a matter of the fullness of God’s life – sometimes seen in terms of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit:   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3) – “spiritual blessing” (eulogia pneumatike) referring, in the context of Ephesians here, to the knowledge of God’s will in Christ and the means of living in the light of Christ.
  • c.  sacrificial love:  this indicates, obviously, that the disciple will live as Jesus lives, sharing God’s life and extending it in the special form that sacrificial love embodies:    “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28);  “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).  Just as did Jesus, in Peter’s discussion.  To be blessed, as a Christian, is to share in the very form of Jesus’ life and truth.

Summary:  what a blessing is in the NT is wholly congruent with the OT’s views, only now the character of creation and life-giving and extending is centered in Jesus, in his own flesh and acts, teaching and haring of life with the Church and world.   It is only on this basis that the re-evaluation of the Law’s particulars make any sense – that is, the Law now read through the lens of Jesus’ own life-giving.  But there is no template that says “this and that is old and this and that is new”:  there is Christ, who is God in the flesh and to whom and in whom the whole Law is given and taken up.  The life of the Law is not overcome, but now shown its force in Him.  And thus the blessing of obedience is given in Him as the Obedient one.  The question of what can or should or will be blessed is not altered now;  it is disclosed in its fullness through the words and life of Christ Jesus and his Spirit amid his apostles.

Blessing in the Christian Church

Mostly, in our tradition, blessing “things” is something whose form we have inherited from the Latin Church, and the language derives from the Latin as well:

We speak, in general, for instance, of “benediction”,   which is a literal rendering, in Latin, of the Greek eulogeo:  bene/dicere, or speaking well of something.    To give a benediction is to pronounce its goodness from and before God;  and it may also be, as in Jewish usage, to pray for its proper sustenance within God’s will and purpose.

One development, given Roman Catholicism’s evolving sense of the Mass in terms of “transubstantiation”, is the confusion of blessing with consecration, a danger we noted earlier in terms of the OT and e.g. the use of objects at the Temple.  Latin theologians spoke in terms of “consecrating” the elements of the Eucharist, but this came to take the place of Jesus’ “blessing” and Paul’s “blessing” of the bread and cup, as described in the words of Scripture.  So that “blessing” or benediction came to be appropriated into the sphere of sanctification and particular service, even transformation of substance.  Dare we speak in terms of a “magical” rendering of “blessing” here?  The answer is “yes”, with respect at least to popular usage.  And when, in medieval practice, the consecrated host itself was used as a means of “benediction” – as in the devotion of the same name, still used in some Anglo-Catholic congregations, but more particularly as an apotropaic to be carried about publicly in order to ward of e.g. illness and violence, the two meanings are clearly merged.

This is the place to point out the etymological peculiarity of the English word “blessing” itself:  it is an unusual word, used in its early forms in Britain only as far as we know, and appears to derive from the word for “blood” (bledsin) – hence, it was a term used precisely for blood sacrifices in pre-Christian Britain.  It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the act of Christian “blessing” in English was only more easily confused with the powers inherent to sacrificial consecration.  As with the word “priest”, which in English was used to translate both pagan and OT priestly offices, as well as the NT Greek “presbyter”, two distinct and perhaps conflicted meanings are rolled up into one.

So we  may also note the way that “water”, once blessed, becomes “holy water” – this is true in terms of the water used to cross yourself as you enter a church, or for the asperges, or, more oddly, the baptism – where the blessing of the water actually makes use of the sursum corda prayers of the Eucharist, as if the water itself is going to be subject to the “consecrating” transformations analogous to those of the Eucharistic elements.  Unless one realizes that this is precisely not what is going on – from an Anglican perspective, anyway – the confusion is enormous.  Indeed, the notion that a “sacrament” is an act that “changes” created nature has meant that blessings themselves have become drawn into a sacramental orbit:  the water of baptism, ordination, and, of course, marriage.  I am not arguing that baptism and ordination and marriage are not sacraments.  But I am very clearly saying that what makes them sacraments is not the fact that there are blessings said in now we can say that, to mix talk of “blessing” and “sacramental” character – as some of have done (cf. Claiming the Blessing”) – is to confuse matters:  blessings are not “mediators” of grace.  They are statements about what is the case, or prayers for what one knows is promised to be the case – they are a form of worship of the one True God.

In general, though, the Western Church simply made use of a parallel set of “benedictions”, or blessings”, similar to OT, Talmudic and Rabbinic benedictions:  an episcopal or priestly blessing at the end of the Mass (Trinitarian in form); benedictions at meals;  blessings for the crops and so on Rogation days, blessings of women after childbirth in the English Reformation, blessings for this and that aspect of the common life of the Church or Kingdom.  On the popular level we just referred to, many of these benedictions were viewed as functional petitions and protective charms or even spells.  But many were more deeply bound to the theological recognitions to which we have already alluded.  For instance, the Rule of St. Benedict is filled with references to the Abbot “blessing” the monks in this or that situation, or one monk “blessing” another or receiving a blessing from a guest, and so on.  But what is the meaning of such a personal blessing?  At one point (c. 38), the Rule explains how the week’s appointed reader during meals is to behave:

Reading must not be wanting at the table of the brethren when they are eating. Neither let anyone who may chance to take up the book venture to read there; but let him who is to read for the whole week enter upon that office on Sunday. After Mass and Communion let him ask all to pray for him that God may ward off from him the spirit of pride. And let the following verse be said three times by all in the oratory, he beginning it: Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam (Ps 50[51]:17) – Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim thy praise — , and thus having received the blessing let him enter upon the reading.

It is the recitation of the Psalm verse, of the Scripture itself, here that represents the “blessing”, said by all together (something, obviously, that stands at the center of the monks’ common life every day).   To speak God’s word is itself a blessing;  to praise God with one’s lips and mouth is a participation in that blessing;  to do so as a people is to live this blessing;  to gather for food and meal with this in mind and body is to be blessed wholly.  We are lay out or declaring in common what is the case with God.

This tells us something about the meaning of the ecclesial and priestly blessing of a marriage (leaving aside the particular question of blessings as tied to specific offices in the Church).  For when the Church blesses a marriage it is in this kind of context of Scriptural word, enunciated, in common:

  • The marriage blessing speaks God’s own command and promise, as it were, just as Jesus does:  “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk. 10:6-8).   And so the word of life is given in the marriage itself.
  • And in this fact God is praises:  “my heart overflows with a goodly theme”(Ps. 45:1) – that is, with speech (dabar) that is “good” – eulogia:  this is what the Psalmist utters in the face of a marriage.
  • And all the people are gathered together thereby, within the scope and shadow of this blessing:  So the Song of Solomon, for all its intimate speech held within the heart of the lovers, is actually enunciated before the city of Zion as a whole, its watchmen, its towers, the “daughters of Jerusalem”, the King arrayed before the populace.  The blessing touches all, and is meant to be displayed.

Contested Blessing

Let me clear from my own perspective and speaking on a purely linguistic level here:  there is no such thing, in a Christian context, as a “marriage” between people of the same sex.  I am not speaking here on the question of the morality of the matter, but simply about what words mean:  marriage refers to the union of a man and woman in a certain way.  People can, of course, change the meaning of a term;  it happens all the time, and in cultures all the time over time.   And the word “marriage” has been adopted metaphorically to all kinds of things – two colors, two ideologies, a political alliance, and so on.   But the linguistic question in this case has to do with the sacramental question:  when marriage is called a sacrament – deriving from the “mystery” language of Ephesians 5 (this is a great “mystery”, Paul says, or sacramentum in the Latin Vulgate) – that description in fact applies to the marriage of a man and a woman;  and it is, in fact, this understanding that undergirds the Church’s tradition on the sacramentality of marriage itself.  Marriage is not defined as a sacrament or as sacramental on the basis of some general notion of sacramentality, since that will simply lead to everything being sacramental (as, of course, it has in many people’s minds).  At least in Anglicanism, sacraments and the sacramental derive from the “ordinance” of Christ – they are deontological, as we say, externally commanded, rather than metalogical, or conclusions inductively or deductively drawn according to a line of sequential reasoning.   The civil state can all a marriage what it likes —  with any number of potential social consequences, to be sure.  But what the state calls marriage has no intrinsic bearing on the Christian meaning of the term.

One can – and we have been doing so! – debate this judgment of mine.  But our task does not impinge upon this debate about marriage, but upon the question of blessing:  what is at stake in blessing a “marriage”, as I have described it, and blessing a gay couple?   Marriages take place with or without a blessing – the two things are distinct, at least from a “ritual” perspective.  We all know this as priests:  our blessing of the marriage does not “do” the marrying; rather, the vows themselves between the couple constitute this act.  So the question is what we do when we “bless” a marriage, or bless something that is not a marriage, but is another kind of sexual relationship.

To reiterate my on view of the nature of the church’s blessing, there is a kind of “test” that needs to be me, which resolves around answering positively the following kinds of questions:

  • Does God “do it”, and does it accord with God’s being and character and will?
  • Is it in conformance with creative life?
  • Is it obedient according to the common Christian understanding of divine command?

The human blessing of a marriage, understood traditionally, according to this scheme is rather obviously not only congruent but almost necessary.  If we take the very language of blessing in the OT as we saw it, the notion of divine blessing is in fact essentially bound to the act of God’s creating human beings as male and female and ordering their existence procreatively within the earth.  “And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28).  And when, subsequently, we are given the shape of this creative ordering, we are told:  “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  The fact that someone – a priest, the church – “blesses” this reality is but the human reflection of something truly already present.  “All your works praise you, O Lord”:  one could look at a marriage service as this kind of inevitable praise, “ascribing” to the Lord the honor due to His own work.

The contested issue with same-sex coupling is:  is this in fact the “work” of the Lord?  If our blessing of something “displays” what God has already more fundamentally enacted in His creative purposes,  how would one know, thereby to “bless” it?  The question, obviously, has got to get way beyond the silly claims that “the Church blesses all kinds of things – fox hunts and submarines – why not this?”  Because, as we have seen, the Church ought not to bless all things, if in fact some things are not aspects of the creative purposes of God’s life-giving and life-extending character and will and do not accord with God’s “command”.  If the Church does this, she becomes like the false prophets, trading in lies and ultimately engaging the deep “rebellion” against God:  divine blessing and curse are humanly and woefully reversed.

And in this light, I believe that the issue of blessing same-sex unions cannot be construed in terms of whether this is a moral or a doctrinal issue.  The distinction between the two, while it may have some canonical bearings within the Church’s decision-making process, has no theological rationale:  there is no clear difference, Scripturally speaking, between “moral” and “doctrinal” reality, whether in the OT or NT as a whole.   And the terms “moral”, “doctrinal”  and even “ceremonial”  have no Scriptural basis, nor Scriptural distinction.   When St. John writes that “by this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 Jn. 4:2), he is not limiting truth to a “core doctrinal” message (e.g. about the Incarnation);  for he immediately goes on to say that “knowing” God is inseparable from “loving one another” (4:7ff.).  And, more integrally, he summarizes his argument at the beginning of 1 Jn. 5 by writing this:   “Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:1-3).   Keep the law and knowing God rightly cannot be separated, even in NT terms.

So, back to the question of “blessings”:  the test is the particularity of God’s will and purpose in creation and creation’s extension.  It will come as no surprise to you that I do not believe that the blessing of same-sex couples can meet this test.   I will not go through each element that leads me to this conclusion, because it is the purpose of this discussion that each person should do this him- or herself.   Furthermore, I have perhaps set the matter up in such a way that the conclusion is obvious:  for the Church to bless same-sex unions is to have the Church do something that she has consistently understood, through the Scriptures, that God has forbidden, as being inconsistent with the will of his life-creating purpose for  human beings.  All that our analysis of blessing has done is to demonstrate that such a will undergirds the act of blessing of any kind.

But having said this, I need to be fair in pointing out that the discernment of this matter is not always straight-forward.   And I raise two issues here:  First, are there aspects of same sex coupling nonetheless that the Church might bless?  Second, is there a realm in which same-sex partnerships might exist in the Church’s eyes wherein at least the anti-blessing worries might not arise so fully – i.e. the realm of “pastoral response”, and how think of this?

Aspects of same-sex partnerships bound to the good and to the extension of life

What concrete recognizable goods might there be in homosexual relationships?  Here are four possibilities that I have not only heard offered, but been forced to consider personally:

a.  the long history of life-long homosexual partnerships, which have evidenced real virtues like devotion and fidelity analogous in some respects  to marriage partnerships; such partnerships may not be the norm nor have been the norm among homosexuals, but they indubitably have existed and continue to do so in many cases.

b.  the more recent history of heroic and sacrificial love gay partners have offered their companions in the midst of need, particularly during the AIDS epidemic; many virtues demonstrated here bear a strong resemblance to a number of highly valued (and rare) Christian virtues.

c.  the particularly long history of discreet social supports given to civil society indirectly through the relationships that have nourished major and prominent gay contributors to civic life; this includes not only the genre of “famous gay men and women in history”, but more pertinently, the countless other gay people we have all known who have been devotedly serving their (and our) commonwealths through service, while being given  (usually) hidden support through their homosexual partners;  the goods offered to society here are more within the natural order, but they are hardly negligible.

d.  a gay couple adopts a special-needs child that has languished in state care, because no one else will take it and gay couples are allowed such crumbs in the adoption industry;  they raise that child with tenderness, love, and dignity.

First, one ought to discuss if there are, in fact, any goods to be found in such a list and others like it.  Second, if one agrees that there may be some goods here, one must ask whether and how the Church ought to recognize them.  Should or can one, for instance, “bless” these elements?  Can one do so prospectively, that is, by either giving thanks that God has in fact promised to enable these things or as a prayer that God do so according to His promises (something we have seen that blessing has entailed)?

Speaking personally, I feel compelled to acknowledge the kinds of goods just listed; and I also must admit to a certain confusion in their face, in that such goods seem also to me worthy of commendation somehow (this, despite theological worries noted below).  Yet I cannot at the same time find a place within the order of blessing that Scripture, tradition, and the reasoning about these two and about society provide.   The procreative impulse of the creation of human beings as male and female, so clearly marked in Scripture, law and tradition, and which clearly and singularly receives the judgment of “goodness” by God that constitutes his “blessing”, has no real place for same-sex couplings.  As we know, where these latter are mentioned in Scripture and tradition, they are rejected precisely in the context of fruitfulness that upholds the Scriptural claims about and character of blessing (e.g. in Lev. 18-19; Rom. 1).

This presents a problem when it comes to “blessing”:  God “talks” in Scripture about marriage – in the sense of its intrinsic male-female union — with an exclusivity that is disconcerting to present preoccupations.  Homosexual relationships are, quantitatively, abnormal from a social perspective; they are “odd” and “strange” to the society of the Body in which God has called us as we understand and experience our corporate existences – minority outliers.  And, thereby, they are also somehow “foreign” to its origins and meanings, even religiously.  God simply has not given us the tools, conceptually and spiritually, to take the phenomenon of homosexual relationships and to distill them into some set of least-common denominator principles.  The “Claiming the Blessing” movement and similar efforts want to do just that.  They write, in one key paragraph the following:  “Just what are we blessing when we bless a same-sex relationship? We are blessing the persons in relationship to one another and the world in which they live. We are blessing the ongoing promise of fidelity and mutuality. We are neither blessing orientation or “lifestyle,” nor blessing particular sexual behaviors. “Orientation” and “lifestyle” are theoretical constructs that cannot possibly be descriptive of any couple’s commitment to one another.”  “Persons”, “relationship”, “fidelity”  and “mutuality”.  These are all, of course, abstract “goods”.  But can they actually be abstracted from the lived network of engagements, socially and ecclesially, that constitute sexual culture and the larger culture of marriage and its obstacles within the context of God’s Church?   Any “blessing” we offer to such goods as “sacrifice”  and “mutuality” and so on in general will be based on our own contestable arguments about whether this or that “fits”, and how it fits, with some larger life-extending dynamic of God’s will that is nonetheless not articulated clearly in Scripture or the tradition.

In other words, if Christians are to recognize these kinds of “goods” as goods to be prayed over positively, they will do so privately at best, on the basis of individual judgments that cannot by definition be affirmed publicly by the Church at large.  So this leads to a further question:  are there other “analogous” social phenomena which may well contain privately recognizable goods for which the Church, nonetheless, cannot offer public affirmation, but which the Church does not stand in the way of having recognized privately.  Here are a few possible examples:

a.  war:  under certain circumstances, it is possible to see some good in warfare.  But — despite the Church’s repeated contradiction of this principle — it is hard to accept war, any war, as somehow intrinsically “benedictable” by the Church.  (The whole realm of violence is one, I think, that is worth contemplating in the present debate — more so than slavery etc. — as a prod to humility in articulating certainties about the Church’s faithfulness to Scripture:  we have had, in the Church’s history, some wild swings of conviction on this score, and Scripture’s own witness has been interpreted with a gestural freedom equivalent to its application in these changes.)  But if war does not and cannot merit the Church’s liturgical blessing, might one not pray to God on one’s own that one side or another “win” or not?  The point is, pacifism is not mandated by the Church, even though many Christians are pacifists on account of their Christian faith, and nothing else!

b.  aspects of other non-Christian religions:  e.g. some forms of Buddhist “compassion” may be seen as commendable “goods” in God’s eyes (this is debatable, but so is the present issue).  Despite clear Scriptural condemnations of pagan religions in certain forms, God’s purposes in other religions are not obvious even in Scripture’s own terms.  Still, even if we felt that something was “of God” in another religion, it is not clear how the Church ought or even could sensibly “bless” such elements in a public way.

c.  the Nation of Islam’s efforts at encouraging self-respect and economic autonomy among poor African-American youths:  who hasn’t felt some sense of contradiction in confronting these and similar social phenomena — admiring the goal and even some of the practice, and also being repulsed by accompanying schemes.  A Christian might admire — might even aid in certain circumstances; but there are grave reasons why the Church cannot bless.

d.  usury as a means of generating wealth for the sake of the larger commonwealth:  this may be a tricky topic in today’s economic turmoil. But the fact remains that somewhere in the 17th and 18th centuries only, the charging of interest as a consistent and legal principle and means of wealth-production began to be formally accepted by Christian churches, without thereby reneging on the Scriptural and traditional prohibition of usury.  Today, vast elements of our economic system are based on this principle, from credit cards to mortgages to credit unions to micro-credit programs in developing nations funded by churches.   The fact that Christian leaders over the past year have spoken out against the essential value of the principle – from the Archbishop of Canterbury to (just recently) the Pope – points up the fact that the Church is willing to accept the social goods from the system without canonizing or, shall we say, “blessing” the system or principle itself – something, frankly, it cannot do on the basis simply of Scriptural tradition (from Exod 22:25 on, throughout the OT. both Law and Prophets).

But here is the point:  although it has happened, obviously, most of us would not agree that wars be “blessed” (and would be aghast at the formal applications of benedictions to wars);  we would not provide Christian blessings to Buddhist monasteries;  nor would we to Black Muslim bakeries (they would not seek such blessings either!).  The idea of blessing credit cards or credit card companies would seem ludicrous to us, though I for one have had in my parish people who made their living working for such companies and serving their families and churches through the fruit of that work.  And, of course, churches make money by investing in interest-bearing economic instruments.

Many of these kinds of analogies share a certain common feature:  they are all based on the congruence of various kinds of “works” with Christian “fruits”, valued in themselves by Jesus.   The notion of “congruence” itself has a long history of debate in Christian theology, however.  One might note for instance that the strong Augustinian perspective informing the Anglican Articles of Religion explicitly rejects any notion of a possible “congruence” among Christian and non-Christian “goods” (or good works), the latter of which – “works before Justification”, in Article 13 – are viewed as “[having] the nature of sin”.    One might go further and wonder whether it makes sense at all to speak of “goods” as associated with “works” to be somehow “commended”, for (Article 14), “Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants”.

But even granting that some of the elements I have listed above are indeed “goods”,  none of them is conformable to the Gospel in its integrity, let alone in its fullness, because they spring from varying motivations, cohere in various larger worldviews, and are linked to a variety of other elements that are extraneous, and perhaps even contradictory, to the Christian message.  In other words, none of these analogies represent, in their partiality, the fullness of God’s truth in Christ Jesus.  The so-called “Logos Theology” of some of the Fathers, which was willing to speak of “good pagans” before Christ, could not deny these limitations.  The “goods” in question cannot be ordered within this framework with any certainty. And if, as virtually all Anglicans of all theological stripes are agreed (from the Lambeth Quadrilateral),  Scripture (explicitly including the Old Testamtn) is for our Christian lives the “rule and ultimate standard” of our faith, and if we cannot find a clear way to have Scripture act as a “rule” in this case – and all admit that we have not found such a clear “ruling” —  then we have indeed admitted as well that at best we are confused, and at worst perhaps even deeply mistaken.

And for this reason, these elements, perceived as “goods” by some, are not “benedictable”, I would argue, because they are goods perceived and explicitly received apart from the grace given in the Scripturally regulated particularity of God’s Incarnation, death, and resurrection in Jesus as commonly understood by the Church..    All these goods fall into areas where private conscience alone can and ought to order Christian prayer, much as it does much of time in our life in any case.

I am not of the opinion, then, that churches or dioceses or synods should order the “pastoral response” of individuals to gay relationships, precisely because I believe these are intrinsically individual discernments and internal matters of private conscience and should be treated as such.  What our thought experiment here brings out is, finally, this aspect regarding blessing that perhaps needs most clearly to be stated in the midst of contested aspects of the action:  To bless is a resolutely corporate and public thing to do, because it is at base a confessional thing to do, that is bound to a particular claim about who God is and what God does.   And “confession” – homologia – is something that we do before the world, clear about who God is and what God has done in Jesus Christ, the truth upon which we stake our lives:  “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”(1 Tim. 6:11-13).  It is interesting that in this discussion of public witness, Paul does indeed link the central profession of faith precisely with God’s “life-giving” reality – who gives life to all things – even as this is given in Christ Jesus’ own redemptive form.    One blesses what one confesses before the world and for which one gives away one’s life.  Nothing less.

This gets us back to the original notion of blessing as barak, God’s blessing as God’s giving himself away before us, out of love – creating, sustaining, redeeming.  Blessing is at the heart of God, and therefore admits of no uncertainties.

Some further reading

Jeal, Roy R.  (ed.),  Human Sexuality and the Nuptial Mystery (Eugene OR: Cascade Books, 2009). Essays from a recent Anglican conference on this topic.

Sider-Hamilton, Catherine (ed.)  In Spirit and in Truth: The Challenge of Discernment for Canadian Anglicans Today (Vancouver: Regent Publishing, 2009).  A rich collection of short essays in response to the Canadian House of Bishops’ request for reflection.

Radner, Ephraim, Leviticus (Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, 2008).  Several chapters treat in depth the relation of Law to divine creation and redemption in Christ, including the particular laws regarding sexual conduct.

True Union in the Body, eds. Andrew Goddard and Peter Walker (Cambridge:  Grove Books, 2003).  A traditional argument, commended by the Windsor Report.

ClaimingtheBlessing, at http://www.claimingtheblessing.org/publications.html, with several references

June 18 2009 08:56 am | Articles