Leading Idea: Blessings and Curses

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Leading Ideas: Blessings and Curses

In this passage, God makes three kinds of claims regarding how Avram will be blessed:

  1. I will bless you
  2. You shall be a blessing
  3. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by/through you

What is a blessing? What does it mean ‘ to be blessed’? What might it mean to regard yourself blessed by the presence of someone else?

How might giving or receiving a blessing be different from being a blessing? Or being blessed? Whereas the activity of ‘giving or receiving blessings suggests a kind of transaction – with something being passed on from one person to another, the state of ‘being a blessing’ and ‘being blessed’ suggests some state of being – some inner active quality of a person. Here there is an interesting question – is ‘blessing’ being used transitively or intransitively? There is a difference between verbs used non-transitively (like “she is standing over there” OR “she Is crying” and transitive verbs (like “Sam was hitting the pillow”). Whereas non-transitive verbs like standing and sitting don’t have any direct object, you can only be ‘hitting’ if there is some object that directly receives your action (to hit you have to be hitting something).

A lot of verbs can be used both ways – and this seems to be the case with blessing. In this way ‘being blessed’ might grammatically be more like ‘being kind’ than ‘being happy’ – to say someone is being kind is to point to the way they interact with others and the world – it is doubtful you could be kind if you were totally alone on a desert island. (where there was no-one/nothing to be kind toward). While being happy is an inner state.

Another way of thinking about “being a blessed to others” might be the sort of thing that we might have in mind when we say of someone: “she is such a calm person, when she is here she has a calming influence on the whole room.” (or spiritual person, or agitated person – the point being their state of being has an impact on their environment). We might also think of ways that we are blessed because of the presence of other people in our lives.

How might these meanings shed light on the text?

In addition to blessing Avram, God says he will bless all who bless Avram and curse all those who curse him. This not only suggests that people (as well as God) are capable of blessing and cursing – but opens up the moral question of what it means for God to act toward others according to how others treat Avram. What are we doing when we bless and curse people? Is it just another way of wishing them something (for instance, good or bad luck?). Can the idea of giving or receiving a blessing have significance even if you don’t believe in ‘ a God who blesses or curses?

In Summary:

We might see being a blessing / being blessed as :

  • An Inner Quality or state (non-transitive)
    • Could just be in you
    • Could also radiate out from you (like a person who is calm can make the room calm by their presence – the person impacts their environment)
  • A quality you have that expresses itself outward to an object (like hitting – where you are hitting something)
    • Something you pass on to someone else through the act of blessing them
    • Through your interactions with others, their lives change in a substantial way (eg., they become a great nation)

We might understand blessing as:

  • Wishing or hoping
  • Something only God can give or something people can also give, or both.
  • the person being blessed is the one being changed, or the person giving the blessing is the one being changed, or both.
  • Having meaning only if you believe in God or having meaning even if you don’t believe in God?

These are fine (and somewhat complex) distinctions, but getting the students to think about these ideas is guided by different discussion plans – for example, the discussion plan on “giving and receiving blessings’ explores the transitivity of ‘Blessing.’