The Good Life
I sat next to a 16-year-old boy wearing a baggy T-Shirt that said “BLESSED” in gaudy lettering. The image on the shirt gave the sense: two hands pressed together in prayer, between them a long-stemmed rose and a stack of hundred-dollar bills.
Pleasure and prosperity—the “blessed” life. The good life. Is this all we need from God? Is it all we ask of God? Pleasure and prosperity—and power, perhaps—are the only goods the world has to offer. Sixteen-year-old, you’re still young—do you remember anything of your Maker? Lottery tickets and girlfriends won’t make up for the vertical rift.
What is the good life? That’s the question. Most answer it with pre-fabricated assumptions that fit their souls like a glove (or like a T-shirt). Our fallen hearts crave blessing without the Benefactor. The “world” is happy to supply the demand with bootleg blessings (and even so, most of us won’t hit it big in terms of the three P’s. But in America we have plenty of free T-shirts to go around).
In the world’s saner enclaves, pleasure and prosperity take the form of tightknit communities (incubators for healthier pleasures) and meaningful work (“prosperity” is relative). But even such wholesome “blessings” as these, limited as they are to the realm of sin and sinners, are two-dimensional. Like the graphic on the Tee.
In our saner moments we sense it’s threadbare. True blessing needs its origin outside the broken world. True blessing must minister to my soul’s needs, not my body’s appetites. This shirt covers a future corpse. But eternity cries out in the 16-year old’s heart to be acknowledged.
The Good Life 101
God knows about eternity. He alone is qualified to speak to it, and he does in Scripture. But his goal is not just to instruct our minds. He aims (amazing grace!) to give it to us. To give people eternal life. To give sinners the good life.
Before there were sinners—before the world was broken—God blessed us and spoke to us (Genesis 1:28). Even in a perfect world true blessing comes on God’s terms.
Much more then, after the fall, God must give the good life—and he also must describe it so we know it when we see it. It can be easy to miss. Before the new creation comes in glory, true blessing comes like treasure in jars of clay. Not all that’s gold glitters.
So it’s fitting that we look to the Psalms—that mixture of praise and lamentation, that collection from the kingly choirmaster shepherding us toward the Hallelujahs of 150—to learn to recognize the good life. In the bad world, the good life always looks like God changing us, not necessarily our circumstances. That is why the Psalms, particularly Book I (Psalms 1-41), do not just talk about “blessing” but describe the blessed person. Let’s take a look at how Book I describes this person in four key Psalms: 1, 2, 32, and 41.
Psalm 1: The Blessed Person Finds Life in God’s Revelation.
God’s grace is mediated through his redemptive word. The blessed person is the one who has been healed to hear his Maker’s voice again—and not only to hear, but to listen.
Psalm 2: The Blessed Person Takes Refuge in God’s Son.
The word and the Word are inseparable. God’s covenant speech issues from and commands our allegiance to our covenant Lord, God’s Son. The blessed life is not moralistic adherence to the word—it is the life wholly surrendered to the mercy and majesty of the Savior-King.
Psalm 32: The Blessed Person Seeks and Receives God’s Forgiveness.
Whoever lives by the truth, whoever comes to the Son, must grapple with the guilt they trail behind them—and the corruption within them. Psalm 1 could be confused for self-righteousness. Psalm 2 could be misinterpreted as nationalism. Psalm 32 puts the pieces together (as Paul does more fully in Romans 4). The righteous person of Psalm 1 is blessed with a life of righteousness, not because of it. The nations in Psalm 2 are invited to repent and join the Jewish Messiah. Righteousness is a gift that God gives the repentant offender, not a badge worn by the self-justifying. Blessing is blessing because it is unearned. (It’s no accident the word for “blessed” could also be rendered “happy.” He who has been forgiven much loves much.)
Psalm 41: The Blessed Person Manifests Mercy and Integrity.
God’s blessing not only counts righteous but makes holy. Those who remember the poor, who walk in integrity—who love God and love their neighbors—they truly are called “blessed in the land.” Ironically, the world often mistakes people of mercy and integrity as weak or naïve (meek is Christ’s word for them). But they are in fact those to whom the kingdom is given. They will inherit the land. Pleasure, prosperity and power will come to those who are pure in heart.
But first: They see God.
THE Blessed Person
The blessed person sees God as the blessed one (Ps 41:13), the supreme good, the “sumum bonum.” One day, face to face; for now, in the Christ of Scripture. The blessed person will see God because he has seen Christ.
The blessed person has seen Christ to be both the rightful recipient of infinite blessing and the gracious content of our blessing. Christ is The Blessed Person. And Christ is our blessing. In him we have the Word (Psalm 1). In him we have the King our refuge (Psalm 2). In him we have forgiveness (Psalm 32). In him we become holy (Psalm 41).
This “blessedness” is not for this life only. Far from it! Resurrection life will put the lie to all this-worldly imposters to the good life (like roses and cash). But for now, true blessing transcends concerns about “standard of living.” Life in the Spirit might look like you renouncing all earthly possessions. At the very least the good life is one free from the love of money. Yet life in the Spirit ends not in poverty but in paradise.
And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (Rev 22:7)
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Rev 22:4)
The book of Revelation brings the blessing of Genesis 1:28 full circle, describing the heavenly city-garden where God’s people will see his face. And it speaks in terms of the good life: “Blessed.”
Roses and stacks of cash will simply be part of the pavement in that place.
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