Imagining the Good Life

Imagining the Good Life

A few years ago, Jewish ethicist and educator Hanan Alexander published a book called Reclaiming Goodness—Education and the Spiritual Quest.

“People are searching for spirituality today,” he observed, “because comprehensive visions of the good are conspicuously absent from modern culture.”

He continues: “Education is not first and foremost about acquiring knowledge, or gaining identity, or insuring group continuity … but rather about empowering a person to choose a vision of the good life.

A vision of the good life! What might that look like? The Scriptures have many astonishing images of the good life. Two come quickly to mind:

Micah 4:3-4: He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Acts 2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

In stark contrast to “visions” of the good life that scroll ad nauseam across the screens of North American consumer marketplaces, the biblical visions are of goodness that is shared in common.

Vincent Harding, longtime friend and co-worker of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a guest last year at AMBS. Harding said, “Martin used to love to say this: ‘We’ve got to organize goodness.’”

“What would it mean to organize goodness?” Harding asked. “Is that what seminaries are for?”

My mind has not stopped spinning around this intriguing question. I recognized immediately that it named what I believe to be our seminary mission: to educate leaders who are prepared to organize and guide communities of shalom:

  • where all that is truly good flourishes—laughter, wholesome eating, robust health, generous hospitality, heartfelt worship, forgiveness, inspiring art, holy sexuality, restorative justice, glad festivals, new beginnings, mutual care … ;
  • where we learn by daily practice how to live at peace with God, self, neighbor and wild creation;
  • where we know to the marrow of our bones that God desires to reconcile the world to himself in Christ.

How do seminaries figure prominently in “organizing goodness”? —to return to Harding’s question.

Unlike any other graduate school I know of, a seminary focuses on the astonishing biblical visions of goodness—visions so powerful that they have fired the imagination of untold numbers of musicians, poets, artists, activists, innovators, novelists, preachers, volunteers, physicians, mission entrepreneurs; yes, even radical reformers, for millennia.

When we lose sight of the comprehensive biblical visions of goodness, we gravely impoverish ourselves—as is evident everywhere in the remnants of our anxious, violent, greedy, polarized society. Perhaps more than anything, followers of Christ are called to empower persons to choose a vision of the good life; a biblical vision that springs directly from the Maker of the universe.

What vision of the good life fires your imagination?