Blessing and Cursing

| April 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Approximately 3,000 years ago, there was a rebellion in the Kingdom of Israel. David’s position as king of God’s chosen nation was being challenged by a handsome, charismatic young man who just happened to be his son as well. Absalom had “stolen the hearts of the people” and declared himself to be in possession of the throne. Fearing for his life, King David fled Jerusalem with his household and many of his subjects who were still loyal to him. On the road, Shimei, a descendant of former king Saul, followed the group, throwing stones after them and yelling insults. He cursed King David, calling him “a man of blood” and a “man of Belial.” One of David’s army leaders was understandably angered and asked David’s permission to “go over and take off his head,” but David refused. “Let him alone, and let him curse,” said David, “for the Lord hath bidden him.”

In another story, some hundreds of years previous to the interaction between King David and Shimei, the feeble and deceived Isaac blessed his son Jacob. In his blessing, Isaac wished on Jacob the fatness of the earth and authority over his relatives and the surrounding people groups. Isaac finished his blessing by saying, “Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.”

Blessing and cursing are quite an extensive theme in the Bible, but what are they? I have often thought of blessing as something that God does. We have a good God Who blesses us with food, shelter, companionship, and (best of all) a relationship with Him. Cursing is something people do, most often when they are upset and let fly certain four-letter words. Blessings are in the realm of God and cursings are in the realm of man.

The more I considered this, though, the more I realized that this view of blessing and cursing is incomplete. The Bible records plenty of blessing that happens at the hands of people. The story of Isaac and Jacob is an example of one person blessing another. The Bible also records cursing that comes from God. Think of the curses that God made clear when He was making a covenant with the nation of Israel. When the Israelites were entering the land of Canaan, two opposing groups of them stood on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (the mounts of blessing and cursing). They heard about the benefits they would enjoy if they would follow God and the punishment that would result if they turned away from Him. Both blessing and cursing can come from people, and both blessing and cursing can come from God.

I now have a new definition for blessing and cursing. (I am referring to the actions; blessings and cursings as nouns are something different.) Blessing is the doing or saying of something that promotes the well-being of an individual or a group. Cursing is the doing or saying of something that promotes the downfall of an individual or a group.

Our world has a cursing problem. I don’t know if you have noticed it or not, but I’ve seen and heard much cursing going on recently. In these days of political correctness, it isn’t always considered proper to come out and say exactly what you think of someone (although some still do), so today’s preferred method of cursing is to subtly attack the reputations and ideas of other individuals. Instead of saying, “I don’t like you and your ideas, and I wish bad things would happen to you,” the intelligence and capabilities of the “cursed” individuals are questioned. Instead of a complete picture being given of someone’s statements and actions, the statements and actions are carefully sorted. The right and positive portions are often discarded, and the wrong and negative portions are discussed and blown out of proportion. The result is damage to the person being cursed.

The secular news media has a problem with cursing, and some politicians too. I hesitate to make this statement, because I don’t want us to think of cursing as their problem and not something that we have to watch out for. Neither do these groups do nothing but curse. But the news media and politicians do their cursing in a very public way, and it has a big effect on the people looking on and reading. We have to talk about it a little so we can be aware of and recognize it.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shut-down (like any public emergency) provides a prime opportunity to insult and ridicule individuals or organizations that one is at odds with. Again, this might not be outright insults, but sly questionings of the other side’s rationality and/or intelligence. One area where this is playing out is with the decision to open the country’s economy. There are several governors and mayors that are really pushing to re-open nonessential businesses and see life return to normal. Those media outlets and officials who feel these actions are premature portray these individuals in a very negative light, highlighting their “irrational reasoning” and dwelling on the slip-ups they make during interviews.

Conversely, there are those who would like to see the United States take even more extreme measures in containing the new coronavirus. The ones who would like to open up sooner question their rationality and paint them as alarmists. Then there is the camp that says the whole thing is a hoax, staged so power-hungry leaders can gain greater control over the ordinary populace. If you listen to them, you get the impression that those participating in government have no good in mind whatsoever for their constituency and are simply using us as pawns on the chessboard for their own financial or political gain.

All these attacks that are going on are not what we typically think of as cursing. The words they’re using are not being censored for undue vulgarity. But it is cursing! What is being said is promoting the downfall of the individual or group that is being attacked. No, there are no vulgarities in what they are saying that need to be censored, but the absence of four-letter words makes it all the more dangerous, because more people are willing to listen to it. The attacks may be out of genuine dislike for the attacked individual or group or it may be a disagreement with their position, but words are carefully chosen and stereotypes are carefully shaped to damage the position of the person being cursed and further the goals of the person doing the cursing. The cursing has become more subtle, but the effects are at least as damaging.

All the bad-mouthing can have a disturbing effect on those of us who are watching all these negative exchanges. If everything we hear about a certain group is negative, it’s easy to form unfair biases against that group. There may be very positive things about the group; we just don’t know about it. The result is that we judge the group being cursed and align ourselves with the group doing the cursing, because, after all, they must be better. The problem with this is that we form unfair “alliances.” We don’t know everything about the group doing the cursing, nor do we know everything about the group being cursed. If we did know it all, we might end up siding with the group that is being cursed. Or we would end up siding with neither, because we would recognize that both sides have good aspects and negative aspects.

My point in saying all this is that cursing skews perspectives. It drives people to uninformed decisions because all the facts are not being presented. I am not implying that we should all go switch sides. I’m just cautioning against judging individuals or groups because of what a probably-biased source is saying about them.

So, enough about the news media and politicians. Cursing happens among normal people too! By “normal” I mean people like you and me (or at least like me :)). I find myself wanting curse people who I don’t agree with or who rub me the wrong way. I don’t like acknowledging positive things about them; I would rather dwell on the negative. These feelings spill out in the form of a curse. I make some negative comment about a person or group, giving my listener(s) the impression that said person or group is irrational, wrong, stupid, or just plain sinful. The negative facts I presented about the person or group may be true; however, the presentation has unjustly biased my listeners against them.

A little side note here about common cursing terms. We Plain People typically shun what are commonly known as curse words, and for good reason. However, I have heard other derogatory terms substituted that are just as damaging. “Stupid,” “idiotic,” “senseless,” and “dumb” (when used in reference to a person or their actions) all give the impression that the person or actor being referenced is not as smart as the rest of us. Maybe he did something that does not make sense to me. Maybe it was clearly wrong, both by my reasoning and the Bible’s standards. This is not justification for me curse a person made in the image of God, even if he has sold out to the devil and is suffering the misguiding consequences. But for the grace of God, I could be in his shoes!

The easiest time to curse is when someone else has already cursed you. When I am being criticized, something in me wants to rise up and defend myself. My humanness pushes me to lash out at the person cursing me, either so he can feel the same pain he’s giving me or to discredit him so his bad-mouthing of me doesn’t carry so much weight. However, other people’s wrong words or actions never justify wrong words or actions on our part. Remember David and Shimei? It’s the fact that David did not respond to Shimei with equal cursing that makes his response so exemplary.

Does this mean we should never say negative things about someone else? No. Unfortunately the criteria are not that simple. There are people and groups who have wrong beliefs and those wrong beliefs lead them to take wrong positions. These wrong beliefs and wrong positions need to be acknowledged and warned against. The Bible warns us to avoid sinners and their sin, and in order to do this, we need to be aware of it. This warning turns into cursing when we call the sinners stupid or idiotic for believing and doing wrong things, and imply that they have no good in their character. The reality is that they are deceived by the devil and need compassion from us. Maybe they need correction from us. However, we need to recognize that we are equally susceptible to deception.

Sometimes we can benefit from wholesome criticism. I do not know everything, and this ignorance may lead to me believing or doing something that is wrong. Or maybe I’m believing or doing something wrong because my sinful human nature is deceiving me. It is kindness (a promotion of my well-being) for a concerned friend to confront me on these issues and let me know the error in my life.

We can conclude, then, that the difference between blessing and cursing is not necessarily the content of a statement, but rather, why it is said. Is the statement promoting the well-being of the listeners and the person or group being discussed or is it promoting their downfall? This should not only be a guide for how we talk about other people, but how much weight we give to statements by others. If a statement is given that seems calculated to damage another person, we should be careful how much we form an opinion based on that statement, because it likely does not give the full picture.

I have an idea that I would like to try out in my life and I would like to pass on to you. I remember a friend telling me about a rehab program he was involved in where the participants were asked to provide constructive criticism to their fellow program participants. However, they needed to preface each critical statement with an expression of their appreciation for the person that was to be “criticized.” I want to try something similar in my conversation. Every time I say something critical about a person or group, I intend to include a positive statement saying something that is to be appreciated about them. I want every statement that I make about someone else to bless (promote the well-being of) both those hearing and the one who is being discussed. I want to do my part in redeeming this broken world that we live in. I anticipate it being a struggle, but I don’t want to be at fault for promoting the downfall of anyone. I invite you to join me in this challenge!

~Leonard Hege

Category: Public

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