How does the old adage go? If you want a barometer for the spiritual health of a Christian, check his or her checkbook. Perhaps this is true. But let me propose another barometer, this time for the spiritual health of Western Christianity—the Amazon.com top-selling Christian books list. And its measurements are not encouraging.
This list’s array of Amish romance novels, mend-your-life manuals, and tales of heavenly-experiences present a picture of popular Christianity that is, well, shallow, superficial, and self-centered. One has to look far down the list to find any thoughtful, theological treatises. For better or worse, we, as believers, are what we read.
The books on the best-seller list that are most indicative of this dangerous narcissistic drift are the “how-to” volumes, dealing with the keys to the “blessed” Christian life—infamously telling you how to “your best life now.” Even those words betray the evident egoism and self-absorption so common in our culture.
Yet, when you look at the Scriptures, one finds a much more simplistic and selfless understanding of the key to “blessedness”—an understanding that is less focused on materialism and “under the sun” profit and one that perhaps doesn’t need book after book to address it.
The most well-known of these descriptions is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5—The Beatitudes. But another clear, though lesser-known set of “Beatitudes” is found in Psalms 1 and 2.
When you read these two psalms together (as they should be, since they provide a dual-introduction to the entire Psalter), you find that the two compositions are framed by a repetition of the word “blessing” (1:1 and 2:12). In other words, these psalms focus on blessing as the foremost theme.
Two questions emerge upon noticing this.
First, what does it mean to be “blessed”? And second, what is the means of receiving the “blessing”?
The word “blessed” in these psalms is often translated “happy,” which frankly is a poor translation, since in English, “happiness” is a feeling. For the Hebrews, blessedness is more a state. It is a state of being in a right relationship with God in covenant—that deep, committed, loving, redemptive relationship between God and his people. Just as the wisdom is something grounded in the fear of the Lord, blessedness is something grounded in right relationship with the Lord.
But how does one achieve/receive this right relationship?
Psalm 1 asserts that blessing comes not by living life (walking, standing, sitting) as those who consciously and constantly rebel against God and his precepts, but instead by consciously and constantly delighting in and meditating on Torah. For the Hebrew people, the path to right covenant relationship and covenant blessing must necessarily follow the way lighted by the Word of God (Joshua 1:8). Just as marital joy happens when spouses faithfully keep their vows to one another in covenantal love, so also the believer finds peace with God when, in response to his love, we love him by keeping his commandments (John 14:15).
Psalm 2 adds a second element to the equation. This messianic psalm begins with a statement about the kings of the earth raging futilely against God’s Anointed (2:1-2). And it closes by promising blessing to those who give homage to and take refuge in this messianic King (2:11-12). In other words, to have blessing found in right covenant relationship, one must submit to the Lord of the covenant relationship.
But one must remember that these psalms are not meant for merely individual consumption. And neither is God’s relationship with us in covenant meant to “happen” individually, as “Lone Ranger” Christians. Psalms 1 and 2 are corporate songs and communal confessions, and so biblical blessing is only achieved when a believer is in right fellowship with fellow believers. Such a community—where members of the Body sacrifice for each other, love each other, encourage each other—presents a ready remedy against the secular self-love saturating our society.
So, believers should not ultimately look to popular books for the blueprint for blessing. Instead, they should meditate and delight in one Book in particular. They should submit desires, hopes, and happiness to their benevolent new covenant Lord. And they should do each of these while in fellowship with other Christians in a local church community.
If they do this, they will “be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.