The devil’s greatest lie, both in the Garden of Eden and today, is, “God does not want good for you.”
This lie is refuted in the very first chapter of the Bible: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In Hebrew, the phrase “very good” is “meod towb” (pronounced MAY-odd Tove). It means exceedingly, heartbreakingly, abundantly, richly, immeasurably good in a festive, generous, intelligent, charming, splendid way.
The English word flourishing is based on the ancient Greek idea of eudaimonia — the good life. It’s not a life of leisure, but a life of fulfillment. God made our first parents so they could take responsibility, be creative, glory in creation, and revel in one another’s company. Their flourishing was very much tied to their actual physical presence and work.
Unfortunately, a heresy arose in the early church called “Gnosticism” which said that the fall irretrievably ruined creation and that Christians should shun it and focus only on the spiritual realm. Gnostics even went so far as to proclaim that Jesus did not really appear in the flesh because that would have been an intolerable corruption of his spiritual being.
The apostles roundly condemned Gnosticism. First John says that anyone who does not proclaim Jesus as having come in the flesh is giving a message that is not from God. And yet it is amazing how many in the so-called postmodern or emergent church hold to tenets of Gnosticism to this day.
At Summit we teach students that their desire for eternity should cause them to care more about what is going on in this world, rather than less. Thomas Aquinas put it this way: “Grace does not destroy nature, but completes it.” 1
At the heart of human flourishing is a life of involvement — even leadership. And at the heart of leadership is a robust love for God. Dorothy Day said:
We must build up leaders. And the leaders must first change themselves. And the job is so hard, so gigantic in this, our day of chaos, that there is only one motive that can make it possible for us to live in hope — that motive of the love of God. 2
In fact, to Augustine, the cultivation of this kind of love is precisely what attracts others to us: “Beauty grows in you to the extent that love grows, because charity itself is the soul’s beauty.” 3
Summit instructor John Stonestreet recommends asking four questions to connect our love for God and the life habits that lead to flourishing:
- What are my loves? What do I care about most deeply, based on how I use my time, talents, and treasure?
- What are my loyalties? Who or what gets the real me? What causes me to commit my time and energies?
- What are my longings? If I continue where I have aimed, where will I end up?
- What are my liturgies? What do I worship? What are the rhythms of my life? What are the habits of my life? 4
Hidden in the answers to these four questions is the secret to a life of flourishing. And in a life of flourishing, we discover what the good life — from God’s perspective — is all about.
- Thomas Aquinas, Point 928, in Thomas Gilby, St. Thomas Aquinas Philosophical Texts (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003), p. 320. Originally published by Oxford University Press, 1951.
- W. Andrew Achenbaum, “The Wisdom of Age: A Historian’s Perspective,” Distinguished Lecture Series, April 3, 1997 (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Institute on Aging, 1997), p. 9.
- Augustine, Augustine: Later Works (John Burnaby, ed.) (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), p. 336.
- John Stonestreet, “A Worldview That’s Big Enough,” http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/changepoint/15359-a-worldivew-thats-big-enough.