“I’m Blessed” vs. “Why Me?” A Product of Awful Theology

Even worse, this theology of God’s absolute sovereignty and control leads to the elevation of those who, for example, may have acquired great wealth. Surely they could have only done that because God “blessed” them.

Cursed or blessed? God is in charge.
Cursed or blessed? God is in charge.

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: A few minutes ago I was sitting on the back porch, looking at the new growth on the oak tree, all the small fallen limbs from the storm a few nights ago and wondered about the “Why Me” part of any setback, especially when it involves a family member.

Isn’t the “Why me” approach harder than the “you just had really bad luck” approach?  With the “Why me” approach there is something responsible for your condition. Most likely it is something you did or did not do such as appeasing the gods in the right way. But whatever it is there is a hint of it did not have to be that way.  

“Why me” implies why not one of those other people who are more deserving of this sort of thing.  I am a good guy and they are bums. Why not them instead?

It is really bad luck when you get hit on the head by a falling limb or lightning zaps you in the middle of your golf game. It is that you simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t blame the tree for dropping a limb on you and you don’t blame Zeus for zapping you with a thunderbolt.

Why is it the personal things that tend to bring out the “Why me” lament?

I’m blessed vs why me?

Let’s back up to start answering this question.

“I’m blessed” is a common phrase many religious people toss around these days. It is the logical opposite to the “Why me?” question. Both spring from the same understanding (or misunderstanding) of the nature of God and God’s activities in our lives.

The understanding contends that God is the sovereign ruler of the entire creation, totally in charge of everything. That everything includes the tiniest minutia of our lives.

So, if someone nice happens, the proper response: “I’m blessed by God today.”  And when someone bad happens? It has to be, “I’m cursed by God today, ”  i.e., “Why me?”

I am slowly reading Silence by Shusaku Endo. Some twenty-five years ago, filmmaker Martin Scorsese read this book and ended up making it his life mission to make a movie from it.

Silence tells the story of a young and idealistic Portuguese priest, Sebastian Rodriques, who sets off in the 17th century for Japan to find his mentor, Father Christovao Ferriera. Rumors had reached Rome that this great priest, after torture, had “apostatized,” i.e., betrayed his faith.

Despite the confident assurance that God is on his side, Rodriques discovers that the God on his side (and who doesn’t stay there all that long after all) does not appear to also stand with a group of faithful Japanese Christians. They face extraordinary suffering at the hands of those who will exterminate Christianity from Japanese soil.

If God is in charge . . . 

The other day, while reading Silence, I pondered the bowl of pasta in front of me. Homemade marinara sauce, lovingly simmered with freshly picked herbs and a generous splash of good wine, flavored the pasta. Although the serving was not particularly generous, still I probably ate more at one time than the Japanese Christians or Father Rodrigues in Silence saw in a week.

Does that mean that I am “blessed” and that God had “cursed” this priest and the Japanese Christians who show far more faithfulness to their beliefs than I ever have?

Well, yes, if God is in charge of all things. Good food and solid nutrition certainly are blessings. Therefore, rotten food and near starvation can only mean cursing.

If God is in charge of all things, then God orders raping, pillaging, burning and the Russian interference in US elections.

If God is in charge of all things and does, therefore, arrange for all the suffering and immorality that goes on in the world, then God has no morals.

That is a problem.

But that theology is precisely where the “Why me” question comes from. Because something bad happening always brings up that question. An accident, an illness, or even a falling tree limb or a lightning zap–any severe event, presumably entirely under the control and will of an all-powerful God–leads one to ask, “What did I do to deserve THIS?”

Which, of course, leads us exactly where you landed–they are bums, so they deserve it. But I’m not. So I deserve special protection. I deserve to be blessed.

And then, of course, we move into the business of dehumanizing anyone who has something “bad” happen to them because, clearly, God would have blessed them otherwise.

Even worse, this theology of God’s absolute sovereignty and control leads to the elevation of those who, for example, may have acquired great wealth. Surely they could have only done that because God “blessed” them.

Therefore, wealthy people are inherently good since they experience God’s “blessings” and poor people are inherently bad because they experience God’s “curses.”

An unfortunate truth, however: many rich people, although certainly not all, gained that wealth through distinctively nasty, God-denying and destructive means. And many poor people, although certainly not all, radiate goodness and deep faith in God in the midst of what can be the choking suffocation of unrelenting poverty.

In other words, the “Why me?” response springs from just plain bad and destructive theology.

Heartbreaking on many levels.

ask-the-thoughtful-pastor[Note: A version of this column is slated to run in the March 31, 2017, edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.]

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  • Annie Hammon

    So interesting. In spite of being a (former) Southern Baptist missionary kid, I never have said I’m blessed. Maybe because before I was 19, I had lost my 5-month-old son who had spent his short life in a hospital. I knew then that God didn’t pick and choose who would live and who would die. My husband of 38 1/2 years died 3 years ago of cancer. We never asked, “why us”. It wasn’t the right question. There were no right questions.

    • Chuck Johnson

      A right question is:
      “How can I move forward in the best way despite these sad events?”

  • Chuck Johnson

    Why me? and I’m Blessed are a direct logical consequence of the Genesis creation story. God created a world full of suffering and evil.

    Genesis was good enough for people centuries ago, but it fails us today.