The Good Life: Longing for the Kingdom
According to the 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only 33% of surveyed Americans reported being happy. In a society polarized by divisive politics and plagued by jeremiad news outlets, the prospect of achieving happiness seems a fleeting fancy. When subtle despair lurks on the fringes of a culture, it forces us to question our most basic assumption: what do we value the most in life? How do we expect to achieve it? As Jesus famously declared, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Pursuing the Good Life
The way an individual answers those questions will shape how they conduct themselves in this life. The ideal at the end of this pursuit is described by Aristotle as eudaimonia, or the good life, and achieving it is the goal of philosophy, in his reckoning. While attaining this dream often seems elusive, countless individuals, religions, and cultures have constructed systems to grasp this flighty state. Though many different paths have been offered, they generally boil down to one method: look inward and seek what your sovereign self longs for. Christianity, however, gives a counterintuitive path: you find the good life by looking outside yourself and seeking the glory of Another. We are most human when we are fully surrendered to God and his vision for life. What does God’s vision of the good life look like? How has he designed the pursuit of it?
Longing for the Kingdom: Toward a Holy Eudaimonia
As we strive toward eudaimonia, the Lord offers us a tantalizing vision of the shape of this coming good life. John the Revelator crafts this blessed verbal image:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children (Revelation 21:3-7).
We eagerly long for the day when God’s nail-pierced hands will staunch the flow of tears cascading down our cheeks. In that moment, our wrists, so long chained down by sin and suffering, will rise in unending praise of our Liberator. But until then, we must suffer, and in that, we are blessed.
As we await that eternal day, God guides us on the road to blessedness. “The blessedness of the future,” Timothy Chapman writes, “bleeds into the present with the same redemption God has always been working—a redemption decisively accomplished through his blessed Son.” In the life and work of Christ, our Father teaches us how to walk the road to the Kingdom. Jesus, our co-walker in this life, uses his cross to remind us that our present pain will shape us for the eternity coming. Reflecting on this, Jonathan Pennington wrote, “Jesus is redefining flourishing as suffering while awaiting the eschaton.” The blessing of eternity comes through suffering in the present evil age.
If suffering paves the road to the Kingdom, what is the shape of those tumultuous bricks upon the path? The Beatitudes (found in Matthew 5:3-12) describe a “way of being in the world that will result in flourishing” (Jonathan Pennington). In these conditional statements, Jesus causes us to examine our basic assumptions about the good life. Each claim is an exercise in contrasts, contradicting commonsense assumptions about the good life. They posit that eternal blessing comes through today’s suffering.
The Beatitudes show us the beauty of the renewed creation and how to long well for that state. Each beatitude offers a specific future blessing of the Kingdom and a means of suffering to reach it. The condition statements (hunger, thirst, etc.) are not blessed in of themselves. Suffering by itself is neither the goal nor the blessing. Rather, the consequence statements are where the blessing rushes in. When we hunger for righteousness, we will be satisfied. When we lay our lives down, we will find them. It is the bared head of the beggar that will receive a crown.
Ultimately, the Beatitudes remind believers that this life is fleeting, evil, and shot through with pain. God, however, forces that suffering to bow to his plan, making it a tool for our redemption. Do we hunger now? God will satisfy us. Do tears stain our faces? The Lord will wipe each droplet away. In this moment, however, when we suffer, we are blessed, for the Lord is working toward our transfiguration. Eudaimonia is his shining promise, and he never fails. Let us, therefore, suffer well and long deeply for God’s Kingdom.
For further reading:
Cosby, Brian. “4 Reasons God Ordains Suffering for His People”.
Chapman, Timothy. “The Counterintuitive Beauty of the Beatitudes”.
Piper, Jonathan. “The Majesty of the Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount”.
Leithart, Peter. “Beatitude”.