The Good News of The Good Life
by Joseph Seger
World Methodist Evangelism
We need to change the world. This message continuously repeats throughout the world today. Whether we believe it or not, we see, hear, and encounter it everywhere. From our social media feeds and the many causes shared there to the virtue posturing of the latest ad, the message continues – life would be better if we only – the answers vary, but the same questions arise.
Should life be better? What is the good life?
We may know it by sight or feel. We may desire it as we look at the people around us. We certainly share it in the stories we tell. Good stories give our hearts and minds room to play out real life’s struggles. They also reveal the issues of the human heart.
I recently watched the Lorax with my children. A classic Dr. Seuss tale refreshed in a clever way. In it, the people of Thneedville are sold fresh air and plastic everything as a result of environmental constraints and constant advertisement. A world only animation could offer in a fun way. Still, amidst the laughs, the social critique of Western civilization jumps off the screen. An individualistic approach to life has led many societies promoting the ‘good life’ by ‘biggering and bettering’ in Seuss’s classic observation. Keeping up with the Joneses and the so-called American Dream pull its followers into the business of busyness.
It made me pause and take stock of how I might be caught up in a real life reflection of this fictional tale. Am I really just giving my children experiences or am I also pursuing this empty promise? Do I pursue what I believe to be good or just the next thing offered? Has the good news of advancing lifestyle pursuits greater digital access moved me to live under FOMO (fear of missing out), or its recent iteration of FOBO (fear of better options). Am I caught up in this hesitating loneliness and the gospel of plastic consumerism? How should I be living?
It’s a question which applies to us all and haunts human history – How then shall we live? It forces us to pause and reflect on our current path in life. I won’t burden you with my own reflections (though we have remarkably less lying around these days). I will give you the question which often haunts me, ‘Am I living the good life?’
Philosophers and politicians have offered varying answers. History tells us how these proclamations have swung societies and nations back and forth in life’s pursuits. Great empires rose, fell, and were torn apart by the ways the people have grabbed a hold of an offered answer – or the ways in which they failed to consider a way together.
This is still true today. The world changes as it stays the same. Of late, people have clung more to ideas not from moral or thought leaders, but rather entertainers, influencers, and advertisers. Attention has flowed towards those who can capture our gaze over those who have shown character and wisdom. This leads to fads, gimmicks, and novelty demanding our life fulfillment.
Yet nothing is new under the sun. Blaise Pascal, the 16th century mathematician, brilliantly articulated this truth in his Penses, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
We cram the biggering and bettering into a bottomless hole that has but one satisfactory answer. God. Only God can sustain our longing, being, and purpose. The better product, the funner event, the shinier life, the tribal prestige, the ambitious agenda – all fall away against the march of time. Or as Ecclesiastes teaches, “Meaningless, meaningless – all is meaningless.”
How then shall we live? The one answer Pascal reveals is not a principle or definition, but rather a God-centered life well lived. We have stories of someone who revealed this life to us and it is good – some say good news for us. For the answer is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The answer is Jesus, who told us long ago about the emptiness of other pursuits,”The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus’ answer has an invitation which extends still today. The good life lies in the way following his teachings. The good life comes from loving our neighbor, seeking justice, coming alongside the downtrodden, loving ourselves, and walking humbly with our God. It remains good news to those not yet living in it that abundant life can be had by all. It offers life unswayed by advertising and social advancement. History reveals countless lives which witness to these truths. And we are all invited to add our lives to the many who have walked this path.
I confess I have at times been swayed by the pursuits sold and modeled to me by many. Over time, I have seen and felt them turn to ash. Only Jesus’s way has endured the trials of time. My hope is that people look at my life and see not the ‘biggering and bettering’ of consumerism’s empty promises, but rather the abundant life of obedience to Jesus, the fount of eternal life. And about this, I care a whole awful lot.
How then shall we live? By following Jesus and inviting others to join in the journey. By this the world will indeed change.. May we share this good news well as we tell stories of life lived along the path Jesus calls us all to walk.