“Bless you,” or “God bless you!” are almost as common around Grand Rapids (where I live) as “Thank you!” Would you agree? I’ve heard people complain that “God bless you” has become meaningless and trite—and therefore should not be said. Really? To me, it’s like saying “I love you.” Of course, if we don’t love someone, we shouldn’t say “I love you.” That would be a lie. But, if we really do love someone, can we ever tell them too often?
Similarly, can we ever ask God to bless someone we love too often? Ah, but what about someone who is our enemy? Do we really want to ask God to bless them? What if what they are doing is evil? Shouldn’t we ask God to curse them? I’ve just been meditating on Psalm 58, where David prays for God to foil the plans of the wicked and vindicate the righteous. Can we ask for God to judge the wicked and in the same breath ask God to “bless” them??
I think the answer is “yes,” but hopefully out of a heart motivated by love. When we love someone, we long for evil to end but are also keenly aware that sinful behavior is harmful for the perpetrator as well as those being hurt. There’s a clue in James 3:8-11, where poison tongues are roundly condemned: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?“
There is a mystery in the Scripture that we humans constantly experience as the tension between hating sin and loving the person who has sinned. When we’re praying for those we love most dearly, we ask for mercy and compassion from God. Like Paul begging God to save the Jewish people or David lamenting for his son Absalom, our hearts are broken, and we wish somehow we could take on the penalty for our loved one’s sins, even when they are hurting us. In both these cases, Paul and David were praying for “beloved enemies.”
But what about our TRUE enemies? Can’t we ask God to judge the wicked, like David did? I think the answer is “yes.” We can ask God to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous, but that is totally different from asking God to curse the wicked.
Every time we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking God to eliminate sin and bring to earth God’s reign of peace and goodness. However, we need to remember with humility that we are not without sin ourselves. I have been struck by David’s plea in Psalm 58. He is addressing his prayer to God on behalf of the “congregation,” which presumably is the assembled group of believing Israelites who have come to worship God. The title includes “Al-taschith” which has been translated, “Destroy Not.” In the Psalm, we see that even the assembled group of worshipers are not pure. We have all sinned. We have all lied. We are all deserving of punishment, but still David intercedes and asks that God not destroy us!
Can we do this for those who are our TRUE enemies? Can we learn to love those who hurt us and return blessing for their curses? I love to repeat this amazing insight from David in Psalm 18:35, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” It is almost like a blessing, and I remind God of this verse when I pray for those who have fallen into great traps of sin. If you’re ever looking for a blessing for your “enemies” (beloved or not yet beloved), try asking God—through gentleness—to save them . . . to give them the shield of salvation, to hold them up (so that they can walk uprightly), and to make them great in the best sense—in becoming like our great God!
“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:10-18).
Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:44, “Bless them that curse you” and again in Luke 6:27, “Bless them that curse you.”
Reproduction of the painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com