A coworker once invited my mother to a cabaret show at a local nightclub. John Davidson, a famous singer, was scheduled to perform. But Mom was sick, and she had to refuse. Unable to find anyone else to join her, the other lady stayed home, too.
The date was May 28, 1977, and the place was the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky. That evening, a fire destroyed the club. 165 people died and over 200 were injured. It was one of the most tragic fires in American history.
It's staggering to think of what my mother would have missed if she had gone that night and not come back. She wouldn’t have met lifelong friends, married my father, given birth to me, or seen any of her nieces and nephews born. I consider that stomach bug to be God’s blessing in her life. But what does that word--blessing—mean anymore in a world that often dulls it with overuse?
When we ask God for a blessing, we aren’t asking for a miraculous absence of pain. Blessings are God’s intervention for good in a person’s life. A blessing could be a gift of temporal pleasure, like a beautiful day or a delicious meal, that reminds you of his presence. But his greatest blessings are often circumstances that strike us as painful or inconvenient in their earliest moments.
In Genesis, Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, confronted disasters that weren’t revealed as God’s intervention for many years. His brothers sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:28); his owner sent him to prison for a crime he didn’t commit (39:20); he was forgotten and neglected by those he helped while in jail (40:23). Eventually, however, his tribulations won him a position of power under the pharaoh of Egypt and he rescued the land from a famine. By the time he reunited with his brothers, he had seen God’s blessing in the seemingly bleak and random predicaments behind him. “You meant evil against me,” he told them (50:20 NKJV). “But God meant it for good, in order to…save many people alive.”
The Gospel of Luke recounts how a tax collector named Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus in Jericho. But Zacchaeus was short (19:3) and couldn’t see over the crowd. Knowing Jesus’s route, he ran ahead and climbed a tree. When Jesus passed, he looked up into the branches and called for Zacchaeus to come down and give him a place to stay (v. 5). Zacchaeus’s short build led to a transformative meeting in which he pledged to repent of his history as a fraud and restore four times what he had stolen (v. 8-10).
The most powerful blessing in the Bible is the birth of Jesus. Mary became pregnant with Jesus before she was married (Mt. 1:18). Her husband-to-be, Joseph, dreaded the condemnation this threatened to bring on his family (v. 19). He rushed to marry her (v. 24). Then a census forced him to take Mary to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-6), and there was nowhere to stay during the birth. Then the family had to flee to escape a king bent on killing the young messiah (Mt. 2:13-14).
The coming of the “savior of the world” (1 John 4:14) rained difficulties on his earthly family. But they endured. Their son was the only perfect human who ever lived (Hebrews 4:15). His death shocked and disillusioned his followers, but he died as the “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) who bore divine wrath for the world’s sins and freed us from judgment. Then he rose, crowning his death as the ultimate blessing, God’s most ingenious reversal of evil into good.
Maybe the power goes out and we spend a night laughing with our family instead of snoozing around the TV. Maybe we miss the flight that would’ve been our last trip anywhere in this life. Everywhere, even in the small disappointments and pains of our day, we can find God working for good (Romans 8:28) and to make us aware that he cares for us.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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