Two children were fighting in the park next to my home. Minutes before they had been playing football and enjoying each other’s company. They had a disagreement that lead to an unbelievable barrage of curses. It was amazing how the curses they unleashed were full of passion and anger. Not only did they curse each other, but they cursed their mothers, families, ancestors and homes. It seems that demeaning and degrading comes more naturally to us as human beings than blessing one another. Cursing is not just a habit for young children, but also adults do so in more sophisticated and refined language, or privately in our minds and hearts.
This becomes particularly evident when there are two nations in hatred and enmity towards each other. In conflict, it is not necessarily our instinct to bless our enemies. We do not want to see the other side prosper or succeed. When calamity hits our opponents, we might find it difficult to be sympathetic, and some might even rejoice. We have seen incidents of this in recent natural and human disasters around the world. People’s responses to these tragedies are influenced by the type of relationship they have with those who suffered. Our attitudes towards the other can be one of condemnation or blessing.
The subject of blessing and cursing is clearly present from the beginning and is a strong theme throughout the Bible. A curse comes upon the land because of Adam’s disobedience. All of Deuteronomy 27-28 describes how disobedience to God led to being cursed, and faith and obedience brought blessing. In the Old Testament the word “blessing” appears over 600 times.
The portrayals of blessing in the Bible can be divided into the following themes: A blessing is a public declaration of a favored status with God. It endows power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing serves as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.
There are several aspects that we have to take into consideration. Removal from the realm of God’s blessing comes as a result of sin and disobedience to God. In Genesis 3:14, God’s curses to the serpent were very strong. In verse 17, God curses the ground because of man’s sin. Disobedience brings a curse to our land, and the land ceases to be a source of blessing. It is not only our disobedience that brings curses upon the land, but also our enmity towards people who are created in God’s image and likeness. As it is written in I Chronicles 14:7, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Here, obedience brings healing and blessing to the land.
In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus talks about blessing as a way to approach our enemies. “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” As such, blessing is an act of obedience, and a foundation of reconciliation.
Not only in the Bible, but also in Middle Eastern cultures, the act of blessing and cursing is significant. People have a strong belief in the power of the word. Blessing is built into our languages. When people greet or leave each other it is with more than “Hello,” but with blessing of peace; “Salaam aleikum” in Arabic, or in Hebrew, “Shalom.” Both Hebrew and Arabic daily language are peppered with phrases of blessing, such as “Allah ya’tik al’afi,” meaning “God give you strength.” Blessing and cursing are also a part of religious rituals in our societies. One of the traits of being in enmity with others is that you curse them.
In October, Musalaha conducted a family conference when we studied this theme of blessing in the Bible. As we were in the process of learning and praying about blessing, we moved to the part of blessing each other, and realized that it meant kneeling to receive the blessing. The word blessing, bracha in Hebrew, shares the same root as the word berech which means knee. Blessing has the connotations of kneeling, since one kneels to receive a blessing. It is a humbling process to receive a blessing from someone else, particularly from someone with whom you are in enmity. For them to bless you puts them in a higher position or status. Both the processes of honoring others and of receiving honor can be humbling. There is a great deal of vulnerability in the exchange of blessing.
Understanding some of this context illustrates the important aspect of blessing in the process of reconciliation. When we bless the “enemy” and pray for his well-being, as Jesus teaches, we are praying that his home and land will be fruitful. If they are from the other side of a conflict, we may not want them to succeed and prosper. The other side might be blessed at our own expense. When we actively bless people, we may be blessing someone who contradicts our theological or political principles. Their prosperity could be on our own account, and might indicate God’s favor. Their calamity may indicate that God justifies us and is on our side. Therefore the act of blessing requires a major act of self-giving and confidence that God is in control.
There is a power in blessing. God puts you in a position to affect and change people’s lives through blessing, and that should not be taken lightly. By blessing and not cursing others, we can avoid being pulled into a destructive cycle of negative thought and revenge. We are countering the hateful thoughts that come to our mind and hearts by blessing others with the word of God. Coming to a point where you are able to sincerely bless the other and to receive a blessing, is a tremendous stride in relationship and in the reconciliation process.
~ Salim Munayer, PhD, Director, Musalaha