The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.
– Psalm 92:12-13
Do you care about raising life expectancy, lowering infant mortality rates, lowering levels of poverty and corruption, protecting civil liberties, and ensuring a safe, clean environment? Even if you don’t think about these things specifically every moment of your day, you probably care about making the world a better place.
Christians are called by God to work toward Christ’s restoration of this fallen world. This involves striving towards flourishing for ourselves and others.
What does flourishing look like? How do we know that we are approaching greater levels of flourishing here on our earthly journey? How do we know we are truly making the world a better place?
In the Old Testament, the concept of flourishing is best described by the Jewish word shalom. Biblical scholars note that shalom signifies a number of things, including salvation, wholeness, integrity, soundness, community, righteousness, justice, and well-being. Shalom denotes a right relationship with God, with others, and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when he created the universe.
Most English Bibles translate shalom as “peace,” but it means much more than just an absence of conflict. The idea of flourishing as shalom in the widest sense of the word is a significant theme in the Old Testament:
- When the Lord brings shalom, there is prosperity (Psalm 72:1-7).
- There is health (Isaiah 57:19).
- There is reconciliation (Genesis 26:29).
- When the shalom of the Lord is present, there are good relationships between the nations and peoples. God’s shalom has a social as well as a personal dimension (I Chronicles 12:17-18).
Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. It is the way things ought to be. The Bible reveals that full shalom awaits God’s people when Christ returns to consummate his kingdom (Isaiah 9:11). In the meantime, Christians are called to work toward shalom while they await the return of Christ. This working toward shalom can be described as flourishing.
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 the lives of individuals are part of the larger story told in the Bible. Finding their place in this narrative helps them to realize that they are connected to creation and humanity in fundamental ways that allow them to truly understand their purpose and calling. When we honor God, serve the common good, and further the kingdom of God through our work, we enable flourishing. God wants his people to flourish in this present age, so that they might offer those around us a picture of the way things could be.
Freedom and Flourishing
This notion of flourishing is one that Christians have a strong heritage of upholding, especially regarding the promotion of human freedom. God calls Christians to continue this work and promote the flourishing of all people through the protection of their freedom (Ecclesiastes 5:19, Acts 20:35). To do this, Christians must examine and understand the specific economic constraints that either foster or impede this flourishing.
This brings us back to the questions raised earlier: what does flourishing look like, and how do we know that we are approaching greater levels of flourishing?
One way to answer these questions is look at the world around us and understand how we are doing as stewards. Part of this is fulfilling our call in the cultural mandate to be good stewards of earth. Being a good steward goes beyond maintaining God’s good creation.
Stewardship means making the best use out of the scarce resources with which God has entrusted us. These include material resources and our talents, energy, gifts, and skills. Societies that foster good stewardship are ones that have higher degrees of flourishing among their people.
Using economics, Christians can gain a better understanding of the factors that allow them to be better stewards. They can do this in an objective manner using data on the characteristics associated with flourishing – characteristics like those listed at the beginning of this post: life expectancy, infant mortality, levels of poverty and corruption, civil liberties, and environmental performance.
These characteristics serve as benchmarks of current levels of flourishing, how societies compare with each other, and what people can do to help those who are suffering.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring these characteristics in depth. In addition, we’ll look at how freedom strongly influences these characteristics. These elements are just a sampling, but they represent some important aspects of flourishing today.
This series is adapted from IFWE’s white paper, “Economic Freedom and the Path to Flourishing.” Read the paper in full.
Joseph Conners, Ph.D. co-wrote “Economic Freedom and the Path to Flourishing.” He is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at Wake Forest University.
How do you think we know we are flourishing? What is true flourishing? Leave your comments here.