What does it mean to be “blessed?” What is a blessing? What does it mean when someone utters the phrase “God bless you?” Somehow this religious word has entered into our culture and is now found on the lips of pop stars when they talk about how they won a Grammy. Even for a seemingly undeserving act like a sneeze everyone in the room feels obligated to give you a blessing. So many people use it. It’s become banal and trivial. Almost a filler word for something else. Christians use it all the time. Let’s dig deeper beyond the politeness and the pseudo spiritual hype and find out what the word “blessing” really means.
Bless and blessing are sprinkled throughout the whole Bible. In some ways you can say it is a book of blessing. In the good old days of the Old Testament, or as I like to say the ancient near east, when you came across someone who was of a higher status you would kneel to secure their favor. When we talk of God blessing someone, we mean that they have favor with God. This blessing was seen as God making someone prosper physically, financially, socially, or spiritually. So in some ways those who come across a good thing of any kind are right in saying that they have been blessed or in calling that good thing a blessing. Fast forward to the New Testament and you also hear of blessing. This word is a Greek word that means “to speak well of.” It is also the root of where we get our word eulogy from. At a funeral someone usually gets up and speaks well of the person in the coffin whether they deserve it or not. This is kind of similar to how God blesses followers of Christ and how they receive his blessing today. It may be that we do not have any material thing or we may not encounter any tangible good thing in our lives. Still we are blessed because God speaks well of us. We do not deserve to be spoken well of by God, but he speaks well of us because of our relationship to his son Jesus Christ.
So whether somebody sneezes or finds a quarter on the sidewalk, it can be considered a blessing. At the same time, if we are being treated unfairly on the job or having a bad hair day we still are blessed. Why? No matter what we are going through God speaks well of us and we have his favor. We have proof of his favor in Jesus dying for us and rising again so we can have new life. Now as to why people say “God bless you” when someone sneezes I still don’t know. There are all kinds of stories of how this came into being. Some say it originated with Pope Gregory the Great who said it in response to those who were infected with the bubonic plague. Others say it became popular because of the belief that when you sneezed it gave an opportunity for a demon to enter the person’s body. Whatever its origins it’s safe to say that we say God bless you because sneezing is a symptom of sickness or allergy and we want the person to have the blessing of good health.