What Is The “Good Life”?


There is nothing quite as effective as a good, pithy piece of wisdom. This opening verse of chapter 17 in the Book of Proverbs could not be any clearer, or more wise. It is simple. A good proverb, after all, is a truth based on common sense, otherwise known as the practical experience of humanity. It holds up a mirror to us letting us see the truth about things and where we stand in relationship to the truth. In this case we see that it is the simple things that give the most joy. In a culture that puts so much emphasis on the attainment of wealth and the so called “good life” that it supposedly represents, we might legitimately ask: Is our national “house” one of peace and quiet, or is it one full of feasting, but ragged with strife?

We must all reflect on the wisdom that this proverb is challenging us with. Are we caught up in the “little” wisdoms of the world like, “A penny saved is a penny earned?” Or, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise?” Or, “Money makes money?” Are we seduced by material things that the world tells us will bring us happiness? These are clearly the messages we get from the culture. For example, almost every state has a Lottery game now, and there are a couple of national lotteries that get up into the hundreds of millions before some one, or two people finally win those fabulous sums. Even publishers lure us in with the promise of “free” money for the rest of our lives, and those of our children, with lottery-like sweepstakes. In the meantime, they are drawing millions into buying some of their products, which certainly makes them wealthy. The frenzy and hype grows as the lottery winnings grow greater and greater. People line up in long lines to purchase tickets, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars hoping to increase their chances of winning. All of them thinking that if they win their lives will be free from all of life’s drudgeries and sufferings for the rest of their lives. The truth is often quite the opposite. Everything in our materialistic culture is “sold” to us by advertising campaigns that promise, with slick words and images, that their “products” will make our lives easier, that they will “fix” all of our problems once and for all, and make us happier. But God’s wisdom tells us that true happiness comes from sharing, not from possessing. It is true that we are the wealthiest nation on earth. Why, then, are we not happy?

Proverbs, indeed, the entire Bible, tells us that it is not the things of this world that are the source of the happiness we most desire. Rather, the Bible is, more often than not, in clear opposition to the things of this world. In fact, it is most often a complete contradiction to the “wisdoms” of this world. Could this be the reason why the world despises the Gospel and those who believe in it and attempt to live in accord with its eternal wisdoms?

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Our deepest desire in this noisy and too often fractious life is to find peace and quiet; not just a physical environment of peace and quiet, but that peace and quiet that becomes the inner environment of a soul that has come to dwell more and more often in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is that inner peace and quiet that comes from the Holy Spirit that teaches us the wisdom that the happiness our hearts most desire is found, not in the things of the world, but in loving relationships, in compassionate, caring service of others. Our faith tells us that, as beings made in the image and likeness of our creator, we are happiest when we are in relationship with our God. It is this relationship that then spills over into our marriage relationships, our parenting relationships, our familial relationships, and into those relationships we have with our friends. The world tells us that fame, fortune, and the adulation of the crowd, are the sources of happiness. But our common experience tells us that these things are ephemeral, short lived, and ultimately unsatisfying. The Scriptures tell us that it is love and compassion and self-giving for the good of others that are the source of our deepest and most lasting happiness. This is the choice before us at all times in this life. The culture’s temptations are loud and aggressively tantalizing. God’s truth is quiet and peaceful. The “wisdom” of the world offers instant, but fleeting rewards. The wisdom of God, that we find in the Scriptures, tells us that suffering and sacrifice may be the cost of love in this world, but a life lived in accord with the wisdom of God promises something that the world can not give, that is, eternal happiness in the presence of the One who IS Love. Which, then, do we choose? That is the question.

Lord, give us the wisdom to seek the simple joys our hearts desire only in you, rather than to seek them foolishly in the things of this world. You are the only treasure we seek. Help us to see and to seek only that which is true and good in your eyes. The world is full of temptation; help us to see more clearly what comes from you and to avoid all else. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.