How do you live the good life? How do you really, truly flourish?
What’s more, how do we as Christians navigate the clash of cultural visions concerning “the good life” and what it means to flourish?
For Christians, the notion of “flourishing” goes much deeper than the standard cultural definitions. It’s not just “the good life” – it’s the way life was meant to be.
When God finished creating the world He said it was, “Very good.” His intent for his creation was for it to flourish. As part of God’s creation, being made in his image, we feel this desire for flourishing deep in our bones.
As such, flourishing is a major theme found in the Bible.
Theologian Jonathan Pennington argues in an upcoming IFWE research paper that,
Human flourishing is in fact a key biblical theme woven through the whole canon, one which, when recognized, explains and enhances some foundational aspects of the Bible’s testimony, including the very nature and goal of God’s redemption for us in Christ, who, after all, promises us eternal and abundant life. That is, the Bible, across its whole Christian canon of both Old and New Testaments, is providing its own God-of-Israel-revealed-in-Jesus-Christ answer to the foundational human question of how to flourish and thrive.
The question of how to “flourish and thrive” is answered very differently by scripture than it is by our culture. Here are four examples of the clash between the biblical and cultural definitions of flourishing.
1. The biblical view of flourishing stands apart from all others in that it provides not only a vision, but also the means by which a person can achieve flourishing. Pennington writes,
Christianity provides not merely a set of values or a vision that we should pursue and which thereby promises flourishing; it provides the heart cure and renewal in our souls that enables us to actually pursue and experience flourishing. This is good news indeed.
Flourishing can only be achieved because we receive something from outside of ourselves – salvation imparted to us by God’s Holy Spirit, which restores our original relationship with the creator.
2. A right understanding of biblical flourishing leads us to direct all glory to God as the source of that flourishing. He is glorified when his creation flourishes.
This stands in stark contrast to the cultural vision of flourishing that elevates and glorifies man.
3. Biblical flourishing is missional, priestly, and outward focused, motivated on spreading God’s glory throughout the earth. We flourish when we help others flourish (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
The cultural view of flourishing is self-focused, inwardly fixated, and all about us.
4. Biblical flourishing encompasses all of our being, including our material, psychological, spiritual and emotional aspects.
The cultural vision of flourishing focuses primarily on our material prosperity with its false hope of happiness.
Biblical flourishing is also distinct from all other views because it is consciously made available to all people: men and women, children and adults, educated and illiterate, rich and poor, slave and free (Galatians 3:28). Within Christianity there is no “special” group of people that alone have access to flourishing.
Finally, biblical flourishing needs to be understood as inevitably incomplete because of God’s ongoing mission in the world. The story of redemption and full flourishing will only be finalized at the end of this age with the second coming of Christ and the consummation of his Kingdom.