In Vaneetha Rendall Risner’s article, What Does It Mean to be #Blessed?, she attempts to tackle the problem of evil by positing that what we think of as blessings— health, wealth, and prosperity, may not be blessings after all because we could forget about God in our happiness. Instead, she frames trauma and tragedy as true blessings for those with eyes of faith and an eternal perspective because they keep us dependent on God, faithful in prayer and bible study, and open to receiving the supernatural comfort of God in our distress. In the second part of this article, I will explain why Risner’s reasoning is more tangled than my embroidery drawer, but in the first part, I want to respond to her article as a human, not a logician. I want to let my seventeen-year-old self say all the things she desperately tried to keep from even thinking ten years ago, when she was entangled in the veneration of an angry God.
I want to say that I was not blessed when I was born with ADHD and a mood disorder that made me different than my peers. I was friendless until I was an adult. I was not blessed to be bullied as a child. It did not develop my character— it stunted it to such an extent that I get violently triggered over everyday occurrences 17 years later. It was not a ‘channel of blessing’ that my father got sent off to a pointless war when I was seven, or that my childhood friend died of leukemia when she was eight. Spiritual blessings do not justify her death - even her resurrected bliss with Jesus doesn’t cut it: she deserved to grow up. God did not shower me with love when my mother went through six miscarriages over the space of four years. I fasted and prayed in tears for ‘the baby to live’ and cudgeled myself to drum up ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ in hopes of pleasing the God who thought it was funny to jerk around with human lives. It was a kick in the teeth as my mouth welled up with the bitterness of agonizing, cosmic rejection.
I never felt ‘God’s comfort’ when my life fell apart. When I screamed for mercy, I heard the awful sound of silence. For a while, I thought it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough to connect with God. ‘If you seek me, ye shall find me, saith the Lord.’ I went through a grueling nine-month depressive episode, and, in an attempt to find ‘the joy of the LORD’, spent every waking moment reading the Bible and praying for about two weeks. For years, I still tried to please Him because I feared His wrath, and I felt I was under a sort of curse.
Everything that went wrong was happening because I inherently pissed God off.
Because I was a woman and Eve sinned first.
Because I had ADHD and ‘let all things be done decently and in order’ (I Cor. 14:40).
Because I had left the super-strict church I was raised in and joined ‘the world’ and ‘he who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God’ (James 4:4).
I am not defective because I was not made for any specific purpose. I simply exist. My Maker is not disappointed in me. He does not despise me. I am not rejected. My cries for help are not thrown back at me in derision. I have my wits, my courage, and the people who love me.
That, I find, is enough. I am blessed, very blessed, but it is not because of trauma.
I am not intending to attack the Christian faith with this article. As a person who is deeply religious, I respect everyone’s right to worship (or not) in their own way, and understand that religion is a journey, not a check box. At the same time, in my apologetics training, I was repeatedly told that because Christianity was true, we should challenge the skeptics to unload their entire battery of tests since the truth would always stand up under the lens of scrutiny and the knife of logic. Since everything is fair game, I’m going to let loose.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner begins her article What Does It Really Mean to be #Blessed by taking issue with people tagging their house, their car, their graduation, and other markers of ease and prosperity with ‘#Blessed’. I’m not sure why this was a problem, because certainly, from a Christian perspective, isn’t ‘#Blessed' is better than ‘#selfmade’? Either way, issue was taken with people enjoying prosperity, with Risner asserting that health, wealth, prosperity, and fulfilling human relationships could be dangerous because, ‘Rather than turn to God, [people] might feel self-sufficient and proud… after all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit’.
Forget that part of the Bible that says, ‘There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour’ (Ecclesiastes 2:24, KJV). Also chuck out all that stuff about ‘the labourer is worthy of his reward’ (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18; Matt. 10:10; Leviticus 9:13). Get behind me, Satan. Good things are bad.
Risner goes on to say that unlike trials, good things are ‘not [God’s] greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.’
I like hanging out with my friends— it makes me happy that they love being with me. I’m also not worried that if I give my friend a gift card to the comic store it will backfire, and they won’t spend time with me anymore. But apparently, God IS afraid of something like that?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves— let’s let the author explain further: ‘My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in areas of loss that I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for promises.’
Why is it good to ‘ransack the Bible for promises’ and be ‘kept on [your] knees’ in supplication? If God is a loving friend, surely, He wouldn’t play such games, driving you to the edge of desperation to test your faith and make you beg. My friends don’t often ask me for help— we talk about our lives and I offer. They never have to grovel. It does feel good to be needed, I guess, but it doesn’t feel as good as watching my friends flourish. I certainly would never purposely create situations that would make my friends’ lives take a nosedive so that they would need to rely on me for help to grow our relationship. These are the pathetic, possessive cruelties of a narcissist, not the acts of a faithful friend. While going through hardship can bind people together, relationships grow equally in the sunlight— unless, evidently, we’re talking about your relationship with God.
Let’s move on to what the author describes as the true blessings: ‘[Blessing is] anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal… Often, it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.’
Having earthly blessings is not a sin. It is the result of hard work and dedication. Ditching a relationship with a theologically unsound church doesn’t mean you have to give up religion, or meaning, or even hope of an afterlife— there is freedom out there, and that is the true blessing.