In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
The psalm definitely assigns a positive quality to the person’s life who delights in God and is righteous. Most English translations (including the RSV and NIV) seem to translate that concept “blessed,” as in, “Blessed is the one who…”. The NRSV translates it, “happy,” and the NLT translates it, “joy.” “Blessedness” is probably the more apt concept. But from a preaching standpoint, perhaps “happiness” is a good place to begin. After all, most of us want to be happy. In fact, we want happiness pretty badly. And we think, if only thus-and-such were the case, I would be happy. We certainly treat happiness as one of our primary goals or ends, and not as a means for something else. As Peter Kreeft has noted, “Nobody says, ‘What good is happiness, it can’t buy you money,’ though some people say, ‘What good is money, it can’t buy you happiness?’ and others don’t say that.”
If we think about the qualities of happiness, joy, and blessedness, over time they seem to overlap in meaning, though today we often distinguish them: Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes. Joy is more deep-seated, but still, in essence, a feeling–just a stronger, more reliable one. We perceive joy as being less blown about by the winds of our current condition, as opposed to happiness, which is. But we’re not always sure what to do with “blessedness.” Off the top of my head, I can think of two possible reasons. One, we may confuse “blessedness” with the stuff of prosperity preachers, holding up faith as the path to success materially, financially, relationally and anything else we’d like to tack on. Who wants blessedness if you’ve got to mail a check to a screaming, grinning guy on TV in a bad suit with a not-so-artfully hairsprayed comb-over? No, thank you very much. If that’s blessedness, then I’ll look for something else.
A second reason may be that we simply don’t live a world, culturally speaking that is, in which the concept of blessedness (other than the kind mentioned above) makes sense. Perhaps we’re not sure what it looks like to be blessed and have that refer to our moral character and our relationship standing before God. The psalmist may refer to outward prosperity plainly at the end of v3, but the overall tone and theme is this other kind of blessedness. This, of course, assumes that being in good standing before God and developing a moral character is a part, if not the most part, of the point of life. This also assumes that it’s possible to be in poor standing before God–another concept that seems nonsensical to modern Western soceity. We preach God’s love as unconditional without carefully distinguishing God loving us from God being pleased with us and approving of what we do.
The psalmist is making a claim that is radical for us today–that blessedness is more about knowing God and having good character than it is about feeling good about ourselves and having an affluent lifestyle.
More could be said, but I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.