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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Powerful words

Blessings and curses are more than decorations of speech

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

I drove past a pretty colonial style house that had two "Flexible Flyers" on the front porch, one on either side of the door. "These people do a lot of sledding," I thought with delight. Then it dawned on me that the vintage wooden sleds might be merely a decorative statement, and the thought deflated me. The sight instantly shifted from something alive to something decadent.

Or consider shutters on our modern houses. There was once a time when they served a function on the windows they adorned-protection from the elements, ventilation, privacy (or peeping), controlling the amount of sunlight. Now they too have entered that twilight decline of "décor," plastered in ignominy against the clapboard. As well the widow's walk, from which many a New Bedford wife watched with angst for the first sign of her husband's whaler.

The theology of "blessing" and "cursing" has become as atavistic as all that, it seems to me. We bless and we curse effetely all the livelong day, vaguely cognizant of some long lost momentousness, too jejune in our materialism to believe in anything. Like the sled cum porch ornament, the blessing has become a decoration of speech. Proverbs puts it nicely, in a slightly different context: "Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools" (Proverbs 26:7).

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Search and you will read in the annals of our faith about a day when if a person was blessed he was blessed indeed, and if he was cursed he was cursed indeed. Esau, known to succeeding generations for his lack of interest in spiritual things, nevertheless wept bitterly when his father Isaac spoke words of blessing over his brother Jacob rather than over him. Why the histrionics over mere incantations? What do words avail? Someone may argue that Esau's case was different from ours, that he stood in the direct line of the history of redemption whereas we do not. But I am not convinced that that exhausts the matter.

We trifle with fearful things unawares. We are like Rishda Tarkaan, Shift, and Ginger in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, supposing we are pretending at playing with spiritual things, little knowing the thin crust of earth beneath our feet. Those would-be Narnia usurpers controlled the credulous rabble with tales of a god named Tash whom they claimed dwelt in the makeshift stable-tales they thought they had invented, which turned out to be true. They "played" the people, and got played themselves. The spirit realm has the last laugh on sophisticates.

Does anything happen when we bless? Does anything happen when we curse? Is the configuration of the universe altered one iota by an utterance from your mouth? If not, why then does Jesus say to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28)? Does He say so only because it pleases God in some generic way, or is nice, or shows Him your upright heart? Or is it because we actually have the power-the awesome, Old Testament style, Genesis 1 style, power-to bring good on the recipient of our blessing? Why else does the pastor "give the benediction"? And why do we bow our heads for it?

Jesus came upon a fig tree and expected it was a functioning tree, not just leaves and branches signifying nothing. When He found no figs, He cursed it. What is the use of a fig tree with no figs? What is the use of a theology of blessings, and commands to bless and to consecrate and to give a benediction, if these carry no real effect? What interest do I have in a hollow ritual? And come to think of it, was not Jesus modeling for us our own ability to curse and bless in what He did to the tree: "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

We have not begun to understand why Jesus was so solemn on this point: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36). We have not begun to believe in what lurks concealed behind the curtain of reality, where principalities and powers, both good and evil, exploit or encourage our every audible breath.
If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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