The Good Life: Western Culture 8
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:8-10
“The Good Life” was a British sitcom of the mid 1970’s about a couple who quit the business world to become self-sufficient on their suburban block much to the anguish of their more traditional neighbours. Some have suggested this first flagged a growing movement that is about living with less, rejecting consumerism, being “off the grid”, and having a sea or tree change. This movement begs the question about what constitutes a good life, a life of prosperity and happiness.
Tocqueville makes the following observation:
there are more and more people who though neither rich nor powerful enough to have much hold over others, have gained or kept enough wealth and enough understanding to look after their own needs. Such folk owe no man anything and hardly expect anything from anybody. They form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation and imagine that their whole destiny is in their hands.
This form of the good life requires enough material resources, a certain social construct and can also have an element of individualism. Many would say that being happy is a key indicator of the good life. The 2020 world happiness report finds that countries that rate highly are more likely to be characterised by factors such as security, honest and equitable government, trust in institutions, social welfare, autonomy and the freedom to make life choices, trust in other people and social cohesion. But these aspects for high happiness are out of the influence of many people. So, according to this report, this means many will have no chance of living the “good life” due to their social and political situation.
Christians have worked hard over the centuries, as channels of God’s grace, to build a better society, and to see all people flourish in all aspects of life. Jeremiah advises those who are exiled in Babylon to build a flourishing society:
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jer 29:7
It has been common in public comment to portray Christianity as the enemy of fulfillment, opposed to happiness since it was placing constraints on moral behaviour. But where Christians have supported this depiction it has been suggested that its origins are outside of the Scriptures:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis
The abundant life that Jesus brings (Jn 10:10) is something so foreign to our cultural thinking that we may be perplexed when Paul can rejoice during his sufferings (2 Cor 12:8-10). Elisabeth Elliot said …
The world looks for happiness through self-assertion. The Christian knows that joy is found in self-abandonment. “If a man will let himself be lost for My sake,” Jesus said, “he will find his true self.”
Many will experience suffering in their lives and our culture is one of the least able to live well within these times. We are more likely to blame God for our suffering when we have the perspective that God’s primary intention is to make us happy within our cultural definition of happiness. We set up ourselves as judge and jury over God. We can only negotiate the path of grace and truth when we address our attitude to God stirred up by events around us.
So, an important aspect of discipleship is to build a Scriptural basis for embracing the good life under the knowledge of the goodness of God. While it does include a perspective on the broader social aspects it also recognises that these issues will not change immediately and living the good life within these circumstances is possible. While there is a longing for the future, the Scriptures are also applicable to our lives now. Our examples are very important, and we should ask how we are depicting what a flourishing life looks like.