Public Square & Theology 101

Flourishing: The Way Things Ought To Be

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And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 

– Revelation 21:3-4

In the climactic scene of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam, two of the story’s heroes, are climbing the slopes of Mount Doom. Frodo collapses, unable to go further. He is exhausted from bearing the weight of the ring that he must destroy in order to save Middle Earth. Sam bends over and softly says,

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?…It’ll be spring soon, and the orchards will be in blossom; and the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket; and they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields and eating the first of the strawberries and cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?

It is this vision of the Shire, Sam and Frodo’s home, that gives Sam the strength to physically carry Frodo up Mount Doom.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the story’s author, uses the Shire as a literary metaphor for the biblical idea of shalom. In my last post I suggested that shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. It is the way things ought to be. The Old Testament prophets pictured shalom as the wolf lying with the lamb, weapons turned into farming tools, deserts blooming, and the mountains streaming with red wine.

The Bible tells us that full shalom awaits God’s people at the end of this age, in the last chapter of redemptive history when Christ returns to consummate his kingdom. We are called to work toward shalom while we await the return of Christ. This working towards shalom can be described as flourishing.

Social psychologist Barbara Frederickson describes this concept of flourishing in her book Positivity:

People who flourish function at extraordinarily high levels – both psychologically and socially. They’re not simply people who feel good. Flourishing goes beyond happiness, or satisfaction with life. Beyond feeling good, they’re also doing good…People who flourish are highly engaged with their families, work, and communities. They’re driven by a sense of purpose: they know why they get up in the morning. 

This idea of flourishing goes beyond just physical well-being. People flourish when their lives have meaning and purpose. They flourish when they routinely experience optimism, hope, and gratitude. They flourish when they make a positive impact on others through their work.

This meaning of flourishing stems from the awareness that our individual lives are part of the larger story told in the Bible. Finding our place in this narrative helps us realize that we are connected to creation and humanity in fundamental ways that allow us to truly understand our purpose and calling.

This flourishing is enabled when we honor God, serve the common good, and further the Kingdom of God through our work. God wants his people to flourish in this present age. He wants us to flourish so that we might offer those around us a picture of the way things could be.

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