ColGood 06-1-12

The Good Life

Seeking purpose, meaning, and truth in your life


Charles Colson with Harold Fickett

Tyndale House Publishers, 2005, 391 pp., ISBN 0-8423-7749-2


Colson finds in the fascinating stories of individuals the questions and yearnings we have about the mysteries of the universe and the human heart.  “The way to live successfully is to live for others.  But in doing so, you must find the truth and live it....  Only a life lived in service to the truth can be a good life.” (345)


The profound sadness exhibited by today’s young movie stars is often “because his generation has been forbidden the one thing that makes life such a breathtaking challenge: truth.” (Introduction)


“...paradox lies at the very heart of life’s mystery: What we strive for can often be what we least need.  What we fear most can turn out to be our greatest blessing.”  “Out of suffering and defeat often comes victory.” (23)


“But the good life isn’t about finding ourselves; it’s about losing ourselves.” (27)  “We have to understand the evil in ourselves before we can truly embrace the good in life.”  “Seeing who we really are may be the greatest gift we receive from a significant personal defeat.”  “We can find the good life only when we understand we aren’t good.”  “At the peak of my power, I found the so-called good life empty and meaningless.” (31-33, 46)


“In one generation, America has experienced a dramatic transformation from a producing society to a consuming society.”  (We used to measure our economy by output.  Now we measure it by consumption.)  “We have completely reversed the Protestant work ethic....  At the heart of the work ethic was a belief that one should work hard, be thrifty, save, and produce.  Delayed gratification was a virtue.  Today the concept of delayed gratification is seen as a denial of some inherent natural right....” (46)


“Happiness is the new bottom line.”  More than half of evangelical Christians agree with the statement: “The purpose of life is enjoyment and personal fulfillment.” (48)


“Paradoxically, striving for possessions and money, the things we think will bring us pleasure and happiness, actually strips the meaning from our lives.  We become cynical and crass.  Life becomes banal.” (51)


“But the word happiness as the Founders used it [in ‘the pursuit of happiness’] has been drained of its meaning in our commercialized culture.  What the Founders had in mind was the classical meaning—...the virtuous life.”  (55)


“For materialists, reality begins and ends with money and the power that money can buy.  ...materialism is a closed, mechanistic, and ultimately dehumanizing life view.” (73)  “Our modern consumerist age is deluded to think that life consists of meeting our animal needs: eating, drinking, money, power, sex, and leisure.”  But “materialism strips the individual of meaning, dignity, and worth, thereby denying any basis for the protection of human rights.” (79) By contrast, “The good life is realized in our ability to hold fast to the truth and our human dignity that rests upon it.” (76)


“Living a meaningful life consists simply in embracing the responsibilities and work given to us, whatever they are.” “There is intrinsic meaning to work well done—and when we fail to grasp this, we become hollow persons.” (83)  “When people are idle, they lack purpose and begin to corrode like an unused piece of equipment.” (87)  “We are indeed ‘hardwired’ for work, and we inevitably find great satisfaction in it.” (89)


“I submit that one of the chief causes of unhappiness is when society tells us one thing but our true nature dictates something else.  In these instances we are, in the fullest sense of the word, dysfunctional.” (90)


Individualism.  “If we live for ourselves, our happiness our only concern, then why should anyone care when our happiness turns to sickness and sorrow?  And why should we go on caring about out lives in these circumstances?  The logic of individualism, of living a life devoted to self-perfection and personal vindication, is finally—and paradoxically—suicidal.” (100)


“Postmodern society tells us that the ultimate goal of life is personal autonomy—to be free from all restraints, free to pursue our own happiness.”  “... that life is all about finding out what we really want and then letting nothing get in the way....” (104)


“Personal autonomy looks appealing at the outset, but it doesn’t come with a warning label listing its consequences.  Living a good life begins with exposing the great lies of modern life.  Personal autonomy, which is so revered in our time, is at the top of the list.” (101) Living for oneself is a prescription for depression and possible suicide. (108)


“Before the...Enlightenment...Westerners believed that we are God’s creatures living in a world an all-powerful, intelligent, personal God designed and created.  Finding the good life was a matter of correctly understanding and responding to the Designer’s ‘operating instructions’ for humanity. (109) 


Our culture tells us to find the true self within, discover the god within.  When Colson looked for the “god within,” he found instead “my corruption and even more devastating, my will to remain corrupt.”  “If we truly examine our own lives, we encounter the agonizing distance between what we should be and who we really are.  For all the talk about honesty these days, why are we never honest about this?” (111)  “To understand the good life, we have to understand how much our lives belong to others and what a good thing that is.” (112)


Believing we are independent is an unhelpful fiction.  Mutual dependence is built into the natural order.  “We are meant for community.” (114) Our mobility has shaken our sense of community.  (117)  “Commitment to community through generations helps us know who we are—and that keeps us from pretending to be who we aren’t.” A sense of responsibility to our community was once considered a cardinal virtue.  (118)  “The sense of obligation to the people around us is what fuels genuine patriotism.”  “True patriotism arises from a desire to pay back the community in which we live.” (119) Self-expression and self-gratification do not produce the good life.  Loving relationships and community do. (120)


“One of the great paradoxes I’ve discovered is that every element of the good life depends on pure and often sacrificial giving, on losing one’s self.  Giving yourself to others and living for others may feel like a radical idea in our times.  But all of us who are part of healthy families know this is what makes them work.” (132)


“The people we influence in a positive way constitute the real and lasting monuments of our lives.” (138)  “I found my life to be meaningful when I resolved to become an advocate for prisoners.” (155)


“So sacrificing ourselves for others gets us only part of the way.  The most important question is whether what we sacrifice for is the truth.”  “By truth, ...I mean reality—the way things truly are.”  “Truth is an absolute.  Truth is what conforms to reality.”  (156-57)


“We need to be seekers after reality, the reality we all share—the way life and the world really work—the singular direction in which true north lies.”  “Many of us avoid this hard issue by compartmentalizing our lives.”  “When we divide our lives into compartments, however, they inevitably disintegrate.”  “Living the whole truth, living with integrity, means that we do not compartmentalize our lives but live each facet from a truthful center.” (157-8)


Havel proposed that the most revolutionary action was living within the truth.  The dignity of the human person consists in the ability to know the truth and to live it.  Living within the truth would restore one’s innate human dignity and make life again worth living—because the truth matters more than life itself.” (182)


“Integrity is vital because any breach of our integrity pits us against reality, and that’s a war no person has ever won.” (184) 


Many say, “There is no such thing as truth!”  “Tolerance is god!”  “Diversity must rule at all costs!”  “The big lie of the West is that there are no absolutes—only subjective truths that compete with one another.” (185)


“The most urgent and controversial question in today’s culture: Can we know the truth?”  “So you have your truth, and I have mine.  This is the essence of the postmodernist era.  But if all propositions are equally true, in the end none is true.” (187)


“The clear majority of Westerners believe we can make up our own rules for living.  The chaos in much of life.” (188)


“Tolerance once meant that we could use our reason to discern good and evil in open debate.  Today tolerance has been used to call good evil and evil good.  Surprisingly, intelligent people often reserve their outrage almost exclusively for what they see as judgmental attitudes—the one evil they are willing to indict with impunity.” (191)


According to Dorothy Sayers, “In the world it calls itself Tolerance, but in Hell it is called Despair.  It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment.  It is the sin which believes nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.” (192)


“This idea that it’s intolerant to object to anyone else’s position, however, is a complete perversion of the historic understanding of tolerance, which was that one had to have the respect to listen to anyone else’s point of view, even one with which one might profoundly disagree.  Tolerance did not reject truth claims; it respected them.” (192)


“In abandoning the religious ‘superstitions’ of the past, knowledge itself has become nothing more than superstition—that’s postmodernism in a nutshell.  This escape from reason makes intelligent discourse impossible.” (193)


“We need to rise up and speak out for what is obvious—there is truth, and it’s knowable.” (195)


With regard to the principle of utilitarianism – what brings the most good to the most people: “What is most shocking about great evil is how often it comes in the guise of the good, done for what seems a noble end.” (203)


Regarding the debate over embryonic stem cell research.  “An embryo, after all, is a life.  If we can take a life that isn’t worth living, then why shouldn’t we use those embryos to find cures to the most feared diseases Americans experience?  But if it’s okay to take the embryo, why should we not use the body parts of a disabled infant who would otherwise be killed?”  “The logic is precisely the same.  Where do we draw the line?” (205)


“Life and death become judgment calls.”  “But who decides what our ethics will be?  If there is no truth, there are no true ethics, only prudential standards that reasonable people try to apply.” (206)


“Most of the time, evil comes to us as the hand on the shoulder and the kind voice that says, ‘Let me help you.’  Without a view of God, or at the very least a transcendent natural order, there is no intrinsic significance to life.” (209)


“There is a raging debate among scientists and philosophers over this question, whether life began by chance or by design.  So focus carefully on where the evidence leads you, for the question is not just about science; it’s about you—whether your life began by chance or by design.  Your answer to this question directly determines how you live your life and what choices you will make.  You cannot know and live the truth, as Havel put it, or experience the good life unless you get this answer to this question right.” ”  (213)


“What’s clear to me is that the debate between Darwinism and ‘intelligence and design’ today has become less about truth and more about power.  It’s become a battle over who controls the way society looks at this issue and what is allowed to be taught in schools.”  [Of course, this is just what postmodernism says, “Anyone who advocates a point of view is simply trying to get power over others.” dlm] (217)


“While Darwinians argue their position as science, it is, in fact, a worldview.  What they oppose is any inquiry that might open the question of whether there is a God who created the universe and sustains it.  This is the real doomsday scenario for post-Enlightenment thinkers.”  “The issue is not faith or religion against science; it is faith against faith and science against science.” (224-25)


“The question of where life comes from is the most important one you must answer to live the good life.  Get it wrong, and life becomes dysfunctional or worse, expendable.  The stakes are huge.” (226)


“Christianity is the worldview that best enables people to live in harmony with the natural order, the way they are meant to live.  You can best test which worldview is true by living out your beliefs to see where they lead.  Sadly, most people discover the truth too late.” (305)


“We cannot live with randomness and nothingness, as Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards argued.  The thought that we are alive on this spinning planet with no purpose, no plan, no future is simply untenable.  So those who reject God as their guide in life often fall for just about any substitute to fill the void.”  “People run away from God because, unlike a mysterious force, the God of the Bible imposes moral demands they are unwilling to face.” (320-21)


Providence is the Christian’s answer to fate, destiny, or chance.  Christians believe that God has a purpose for history and that He works this purpose out through people’s lives.” (332)


“We can enjoy every stage of life, including old age and final illness, entrusting our lives to God’s care.  We need to accept the seasons of life and learn what God has to teach us through them.” (338) “The reality that we will face death spurs our aspiration, the desire to accomplish much with our lives while we can.”  “Working against the deadline of mortality forces us to come to a reckoning, an accounting with our lives: What have we done right, and what have we done wrong?”  “Death calls us to consider what this life is for, even as our longings for eternity suggest that mortal life is but a preparation for immortality.” (340)


“You cannot find the good life through searching alone.  You have to be found by God.” (348)


“Remember, God has given us just enough light to see by, but not enough to eliminate the need to see with eyes of faith.” (350) 


“The good life turns out to be life fulfilled in Christ, for now and eternity.” (358)


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