Pursue good life – A New Year message
As we begin the year 2022, what goals could we legitimately pursue? I believe that it is appropriate for us to pursue and enjoy “good life.” There is, however, a legitimate debate in Christendom as to whether it is even good for a Christian to seek the “good life.” Of course, the debate is encumbered by confusion with regard to definition of terms. What is the “good life?” Is it as defined by Cicero and Plato or Aristotle, or the “American Dream,” which is a life marked by health, wealth, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or is it something better? The good life is definitely something better than the American Dream and definitely better than what Prosperity preachers are promising their gullible audiences. The good life is akin to what Dr. John Piper calls ‘Christian Hedonism.’
Simply put, the ‘good life’ can be defined as the life that is graced by God himself, marked by his salvation, presence, joy, hope, peace through Christ, which inevitably redound to a sense of well-being, problems and troubles notwithstanding. It is a life that is enjoying, in community, the reality of the Aaronic blessing given by God as stated in Numbers 6:24-26 “The Lord blesses you and keep you; The Lord makes his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lifts up his countenance upon you and gives you peace.” To be blessed in this way is to live ‘the good life.’
But how does this good life of blessings come about? Christian theologians have always and rightly insisted that this comes about first and foremost through a genuine relationship with God through faith in Christ; with Christ and the scripture being at the centre of one’s life. As the Bible says in Romans 8:28: “…We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him. That is the fundamental truth regarding the good life, the abundant life that only God can give us through faith in Christ alone, marked by a life worthy of the gospel that we believe.
Having noted that theologians have also equally insisted that without genuine relationships with others under God, the good life can be elusive. We are not created or redeemed to live alone, but to be in community with both the divine Trinity and our fellow human beings.
According to Aristotle, a genuine concern for others and from others is an important feature of the good life. He believed that friendship was the best way of expressing genuine concern that is necessary for the good life. The Greek words phileo and philos/philes translated with the word ‘to love’ and ‘friend’ in the Bible are most identified with the idea of friendship love — philia. It is social love, the love of a friend for a friend (cf Romans 12:9; John 15:13-14). Jesus loved His disciples and us not only with agape love, but also with ‘philial’ love. Hence the Pauline injunction to Christians to love one another not only with agape love (Romans 12:9), but also with phileo/philial love. Phileo love is friendship love.
What does genuine friendship love look like? According to Aristotle, “friends are aids to the young, to guard them from error; to the elderly, to attend to their wants and supplements to their failing power of action; and to those in the prime of life to assist them to noble deeds.” As Grayling insightfully notes: “The Aristotelian ideal of friendship is personal and mutual, and involves sharing activities, discussing decisions and actions, cooperating, and supporting one another. Because a friend is another self, everything that benefits him in these activities will benefit oneself, and the capacities and possibilities of each as rational agents will be enhanced thereby.
The fullest development of each individual therefore requires friendship and all that it brings in the way of growth and realisation of moral character for all parties to it. I find the last sentence fascinating and biblically true. It is worth repeating, “…the fullest development of each individual therefore requires friendship and all that it brings in the way of growth and realisation of moral character for all parties to it.” This no doubt is one reason that the Bible commands us to ‘phileo’ one another, that is, be true and genuine friends with one another. Friendship love brings positive good into the lives of the beloved and enhances the good life.
Our Lord Jesus expressed His friendship love to His disciples by praying for them, spending time with them, listening to their needs, teaching them the truth, enabling them in their spiritual walk, and eventually giving His life in death for the sake of His friends — to save them from eternal death (John 15).
Jesus and all New Testament writers exhort us to engage in genuine friendships with one another. I know it is a challenge to do this in our selfish and utilitarian culture, but we can do it with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit through prayer.
In this New Year, I ask you to seek the good life rather than the elusive self-indulgent dream of secular materialism and religious humanism by trusting and loving Christ, and by seeking the well-being of others with friendship love as you live lives worthy of the gospel, and as you share the gospel with non-believers.
May the Lord enable us to take the challenge of reaching out to one another by genuinely extending the right hand of friendship to all, especially to the undeserving and those who don’t know Christ as Saviour and Lord. Amen.
I wish you all a happy New Year filled with the life of Jesus and the goodness of God.
• The Rt Rev’d Felix Orji, OSB, is the Diocesan Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the West. Coordinating Bishop of CONNAM. Holy Trinity Cathedral Church Houston, Texas.