ACR Journal

A Theological Account of Blessing

At the recent Synod of the Diocese of Wangarratta (Aug 2019) Dr Dorothy Lee mounted a case for the possibility of Australian Anglican churches blessing same-sex unions in keeping with the general practice of blessing civil unions and the local practices of blessing various aspects of daily life. This paper addresses the biblical and theological premises of Dr Lee’s address and argues:

A. The scriptural account of blessing by God is synonymous with the revelation of God’s will for the world through Jesus Christ.

B. The scriptural account of blessing by God includes the reality of God’s curse (or wrath) being prosecuted against creaturely life that does not conform to his will in Christ.

C. In the interim between promise and fulfilment, the biblical writers acknowledge a tension between the apparent flourishing of those under curse and the promise of blessing for those who uphold God’s covenant.

D. It is not possible for an Anglican Church in Australia to uphold the theological nature of blessing and give consent to, affirm, or in any other way condone, same-sex unions.

  1. Blessing and the will of God – Lee points to the Genesis account claiming that, “To be blessed by God means to receive God’s favour in protection of us and provision for us.” In the context of Genesis, this definition is insufficiently exact. In the creation account, to be blessed by God is to be declared fit for purpose and enabled to fulfil that purpose according to divine will.[1] So, as we examine the Creation account in Genesis1 and 2 the Lord blesses the living things (1:22), especially the man and woman (1:28), declaring them fit for the purpose of filling the earth. The man and the woman joined together are declared, by God, to be very good and God’s will for them in the world is made plain. Later, when the man Noah and his family emerge from the Ark, God’s will for humankind is revealed as they are blessed and recommissioned with the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 (cf.Gen 9:1)
  2. When God calls Abram, he receives promises of blessing and the covenant that is subsequently established by God with him is the inner meaning of those blessings. God reveals both his will for Abram and his will for ‘the nations’ when he promises to bless Abram and make him a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:1-4; 22:18). When this office of mediator is recognised by the King of Salem (Gen 14:19), the writer describes the act of recognition as a blessing even as Abraham’s status in God’s intentions is confirmed. Thus, the act of blessing is tightly bound to a revelation of God’s will for a person or group.[2]
  3. As Lee acknowledges, “The covenant made with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai brings with it the promise of blessing in response to obedience to the Law of Moses.” Yet, Israel is redeemed from slavery on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant (Exod 3:14-15) and, within the covenant relationship, is God’s ‘special possession’ for mediating his will to and for the world as a ‘holy nation’ and a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod 19:5-6). As they participated in the cultic, moral and judicial elements of the covenant they were blessed by the designated mediators of God’s will – Moses and Aaron (Lev 9:22-23). Fidelity on the part of the people to God’s promises would result in blessings to every aspect of Israelite life as confirmation that their lives were in accordance with his will (Deut 28:3-6).
  4. When, by the power of the Spirit, the eternal Son becomes a creature in his own creation, he enters the line of David and assumes a place as an inheritor of the promises to Abraham (Matt 1:2-15). Without the explicit language of blessing he is publicly recognised as the ‘beloved son’ of God who perfectly conformed to his Father’s will and hence ‘with whom [the Father] is well pleased’ (Luke 3:22). Subsequently however, both those who see and believe this declaration are blessed (Matt 16:17; Mark 8:28) by God through him as are even those who do not see and yet believe (John 20:29), for this is God’s will for people to be saved from their sins (Matt 1:21). Furthermore, the Christ pronounces blessings on any who see in him the purposes of God’s coming kingdom and turn aside from the religious aspirations of the world – including the Pharisaic piety of the day (Matt 5:3-10). They are blessed as they acclaim and proclaim the will of God for humanity in the Christ.
  5. Blessing and cursing in the will of God – A significant aspect of blessing as a revelation or recognition of divine will in the biblical narrative is its asymmetric complement, divine curse or wrath.[3] From the Genesis account of blessing, the rebellion of the man and the woman against God is examined, judged and prosecuted as actions that are not according to God’s will for them. God acts in wrath towards sin, death and evil in creation generated entirely from his holy love for creation and this action is described in the subsequent narrative as curse. So, the man and the woman are restored by God to each other; humanity is restored to a right order with the creatures and humanity is restored to its relationship with the creation according to God’s will. However, and because of their sin, they all experience this as divine curse (Gen 3:14-17).[4]
  6. When God chooses Noah to preserve his intentions for humanity in the face of near universal creaturely rebellion, the subsequent blessing he and his family receive must be viewed in the context of God’s curse in the form of the flood (Gen 6).[5] Later, and more explicitly, when God calls Abram in Genesis 12 and promises the blessings of name, progeny and land, he announces Abram as an agent of both blessing and curse: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3 ESV). The covenant that ensues between God and Abraham delineates human life before God as either blessed or cursed according to conformity with divine will as revealed through God’s gracious choice to bless.
  7. As Israel stands on the plains of Moab in anticipation of entering the promised land of blessing, they are reminded by Moses that infidelity towards the covenant will bring curse: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:” (Deut 11:26). The life that is blessed by the Lord and therefore acclaimed as according with his will is one in contrast to the life that is cursed by God. To break any part of the Law was to break all of it (Deut 27:26). The tragic fate of the Israelite story is, of course, that subsequent generations of infidelity finally exhausted the Lord’s patience, the curses of Deuteronomy 27 were fulfilled, and Israel was sent into exile. Faithfulness to God’s Law brought blessing and life. Infidelity to God’s will brought curse and death.
  8. With the coming of the Christ in fulfilment of God’s intentions to save, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13 ESV). The will of God revealed in the blessing of Abraham is fulfilled in the risen Jesus the Christ and comes through him in the Spirit (Gal 3:14). In fact, ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm’ is graciously made available to those in Christ (Eph 1:3), those sealed with the Spirit (Eph 1:13). In the New Covenant, the mindset of the Spirit brings life while the desires of the flesh bring death (Rom 8:13). In fact, our bodies are ‘a Temple of the Holy Spirit,’ such that we ‘honour God with our bodies’ (1 Cor 6:17). Thus, those in Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, renounce their former embodied activities as under the curse or the wrath of God (1 Cor 6:9-11, cf. Rom 1:18-31).
  9. Flourishing and the curse of God – In the first instance, when God blesses a person, or a person recognises and declares another as blessed by God, it is a moment of revelation. A particular creaturely existence is declared to be in accordance with the will of God and his intentions for created life – especially human life. The alternative in the greater Scriptural narrative is the curse of God towards creaturely life that defies or is otherwise recalcitrant towards divine intention. In fact, the former is invariably revealed to be present in the context of, and in contrast to, the latter. Hence, the revelation that a certain individual or group is blessed also invariably requires divine intervention in the form of illumination. Otherwise the circumstances of flourishing may well be mistaken for creaturely life that accords with divine intention.
  10. In Genesis 4 the descendants of Cain are recorded as patriarchs of human culture and flourishing akin to the creation mandate (Gen 1:28), ‘building cities,’ (4:17) ‘the father of nomadic herdsmen,’ (4:20) ‘the father of all who play lyre and flute,’ (4:21) ‘maker of all kinds of bronze and iron tools’ (4:22). From a superficial perspective these individuals and their families appeared blessed until we recall God’s curse on Cain (4:11). Conversely, though blessed by God with various promises of progeny and place, Abraham and Sarah and their descendants wander through the land enduring periods of barrenness, and therefore apparent curse, as they await the fulfilment of God’s covenantal intentions (Gen 15:2, 25:21, 29:31).
  11. As the story of Israel in the land progresses, the question of YHWH’s justice according to the Deuteronomic charter – blessings for life and cursing for death – becomes a point of contention for poet and prophet alike. The psalmist laments, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Psa 73:12,13; cf. Job 21:7; Eccles 7:15, 8:14 ESV). The prophet Jeremiah remonstrates before the Lord, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jer 12:1 ESV). In the providence of God, those under curse are permitted to flourish even as their response to God’s general grace towards creation serves to condemn their actions.[6]
  12. Lee calls repeatedly for ‘a deeper understanding of biblical principles to lead us’ and cites a previous bishop of Gippsland in affirmation of same-sex relationships, especially where such unions exhibit fruit that might otherwise be attributed to the Spirit of God. Against the broader Scriptural narrative and in accordance with the, seemingly, paradoxical nature of God’s activities, it would be more accurate to say that such instances of flourishing do not automatically accord with divine intention for humanity. Instead we ought to heed the warning of Paul against a failure to acknowledge ‘the riches of [God’s] kindness, restraint, and patience,’ a failure to recognise ‘that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance’ (Rom 2:4).
  13. Blessing same-sex unions in Anglican Churches – the Book of Common Prayer exhorts the gathered congregation to consider whether the proposed union between the man and the woman is in accordance with God’s Word – according to God’s will for human beings. It is only once the relationship has been deemed to be in accordance with God’s will that any blessing over the couple can be pronounced. As has been shown, the biblical principle for blessing is that a person or persons are recognised to be living in accordance with God’s intentions for human beings in the world. Same-sex relationships, though they may have the appearance of flourishing, cannot be considered to be unions in accordance with God’s will for humanity. Therefore, it is not possible for Anglican Churches to recognise, consent to or otherwise ‘bless’ such unions.
  14. Further Reading:

Calvin, John. Genesis Biblical Commentaries. Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1997.

Dumbrell, W. J. The Search for Order. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994.

Goldingay, John. Israel’s Gospel. Vol. 1. Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2003.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary 1. Waco, Tex: Word Bks, 1987.

[1] W. J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), 20-22.

[2] See Rhys Bezzant, ‘To What End? The Blessing of Same-Sex Marriage’ in Doctrine Commission of General Synod Report, 2019.

[3] BDB and NIDOTTE note that certain forms of the Hebrew word to bless (brk) can mean curse. See 1 Kgs 21:10, 13; Job 1:5,11, 2:5, 2:9.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary 1 (Waco, Tex: Word Bks, 1987), 86-91.

[5] John Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, vol. 1, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2003), 177.

[6] See Calvin’s observation in commentary on Genesis 4 (John Calvin, Genesis, Biblical Commentaries (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1997).