Saying, “God bless you,” as a polite response to the common human function of sneezing originated with Pope Gregory I in ancient Rome during the days of the devastating bubonic plague, according to Southern Living. It was reported that he suggested the quick prayer, “God bless you,” after someone sneezed to protect them from the ravages of the plague.
This may or may not have been the actual source of this common blessing. However, it seems as if it is a typical human desire to share or accept the blessings of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and supremely loving Deity. It seems quite natural for us to want the blessing or favor of God.
Meaning of God’s Favor
The “favor of God” can be described as a divine kindness, or an act of true compassion on the part of God Himself toward needy and undeserving human recipients. Often, in Scripture, this act of God toward unworthy men or women is referred to as God’s “grace” – which means “the unmerited favor of God,” as Justin Holcomb said on Christiantiy.com.
In simple terms, we can define God’s favor or grace as God giving us the ability to do something which is humanly impossible for us to do.
Eternal Life: An Example of God’s Favor
God’s Word provides two overarching examples of God’s favor toward mankind. The first and most important act of God’s favor is the God-given ability for us to have Eternal Life. This is explained clearly for us in Ephesians 2:8-9,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We cannot earn, nor do we deserve salvation. We do not have the ability to “save” ourselves. That is exactly why we need God’s favor.
Strength to Live for God: An Example of God’s Favor
A second Biblical example of God’s grace or favor can be found in 2 Timothy 2:1, where the Apostle Paul told his student Timothy, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Here, and in many other places in the Scriptures, God’s grace gave the beneficiary the ability or strength to do something they were humanly incapable of doing.
A quick reading of the previous chapter in 2 Timothy explains the author’s use of the English word, “therefore” in this verse. Basically, Paul was telling this young man that he needed the strength that could be found in the grace of God. I think that Timothy understood what the aged Apostle was saying. Life can be very difficult, and we all need God’s grace to make it through.
To summarize these two examples of God’s favor: it is only by God’s grace (or undeserved favor) that we can experience eternal life, and it is only by God’s grace that we have the ability to live for the Lord during the sometimes difficult paths He has for us in this life.
How Do I Get God’s Favor?
The song given to us in Psalm 18 – especially the first 19 verses – describes the desperate prayer of the Psalmist. Notice the beginning of verse 6, “in my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God.” The next several lines of that song indicate the conundrum in which he found himself.
He writes about the “pangs of death,” the “floods of ungodliness,” the “snares of death,” and even the “sorrows of Sheol (or the grave).” It is no wonder that the author of this song is crying out to God. The pressure of life that he describes here was just about too much to handle.
The next few verses in this song read almost like an incredible and supernatural adventure movie. After hearing the frantic cry of the Psalmist, God literally released the very resources of heaven in response (verses 7-15). The reader can almost visualize the drama, display, and spectacle of how God answered this cry for help.
Verses 16 through the beginning of verse 19 narrate God’s amazing answer to this prayer. He “delivered” the author from the “calamity” of this situation and rescued him into a “broad place” of safety and security.
But, the most remarkable section in this entire song must be the last line of verse 19, “He delivered me because He delighted in me.”
The only reason we can personally experience God’s favor, or as the more contemporary song writer put it, God’s “amazing” grace, is because He delights in us. God’s favor is totally and unequivocally undeserved and unmerited. There is nothing we can do to earn or merit his favor.
He supplies us with His favor or grace totally at His initiative and only because of His love for us. That’s exactly why verses like the familiar, John 3:16, describe God’s love as a gift. God loves us because it is in His character to love. He does it because He wants to.
It’s probably a very nice custom to respond to someone’s sneeze by saying, “God bless you.” As mere mortals, we are desperate for God’s blessing, but we’re not deserving of it. That’s why we must accept His gift of grace and favor.
Mel Walker is a veteran youth worker and is currently the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. He is also the president and co-founder of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministry. He is the author of 10 books, including Going On For God and Inter-Generational Youth Ministry. More information can be found at: www.GoingOnForGod.com. He and his wife, Peggy, are the parents of 3 grown children, all of whom are in vocational ministry; and they have 9 grandchildren. Follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Pablo Heimplatz