In last week’s column, I suggested that evangelical Christians would get a lot further with their political and cultural recommendations if they were known as living examples of the good life, the life well-lived, a morally flourishing and thus joyful community.
But what is this “good life” I suggest that Christians, as a community of grace, are uniquely positioned to demonstrate? I can only begin to say.
But it’s reducible to one quality that is synonymous with God himself (1 John 4:8) and the chief distinguishing characteristic of every Christian: love. And so it is also an unmistakable characteristic of Christian community.
The influence of Christian love in a community begins with peace. I take this in the most common sense of the word, a community unscarred by prejudice, distrust, or strife. People neither lock their doors nor chain their bikes.
But the good life reaches even to communitywide friendship, or at least to something like it: the presumption of goodwill in one’s neighbors and the generous and promiscuous offer of kindness. This is everything from a warm greeting on the sidewalk and consideration in a queue to helping people in grief or in exceptional need. Generosity is a mark of friendship. “The things of friends are common,” and so the nascent church, rightly described as a society of friends, shared with one another by holy reflex.
The joy of friendship culminates in feasting. People who live in genuine community enjoy gathering to celebrate the things they hold dear together. They eat and drink and sing and tell wonderful tales with laughter. Marriage, the fount of community, begins with joyful, community feasting. The community of Christ gathers regularly around a feast, the Lord’s Supper, which looks forward to the great wedding feast in glory when God’s promised good life is fulfilled.
But there is no truly good life on earth apart from communion with God in heaven. You cannot truly love your neighbor while hating God. To hate God is to idolize self, which in turn corrodes every human relationship. Of course, Christ is both the bridge between heaven and earth and the bond between man and neighbor.
Loving relationships are what make life good. People who are wealthy and powerful but have shattered families and have no friends are miserable. The quality of one’s life can be measured by the quality of one’s love for others. Narcissists cannot be happy.
The good life in Christ, even as only glimpsed here, shapes our political choices. If people were to see peace, friendship, and feasting commonly marking a Christian-dominated community, they might notice how little these people owe to expansive government and how much they owe to Christ. Such a life would make the politics of resentment look silly in comparison. The freedom and dignity to be found in chastity and gracious, compassionate care in these Christian communities would be strong and living counterarguments to the abortion gospel.
We miss out on a lot when we individualize and secularize our view of the good life.