Tag Archives: Human Flourishing

The True Measure of Human Flourishing

It is sometimes said that no one can tell anyone else what they can and cannot do.  There’s significant self-referential irony in the statement, given that the claimant is telling the hearer what they cannot do.

Of course, the real assumption here is that claiming some choices are morally better than others is arrogant and judgmental.  In short, it’s immoral to tell others that some things are immoral.  No one has the right to deny someone else the freedom to pursue personal fulfillment, self-determination, and happiness in any way they want.  This is especially true for those seeking the opportunity to marry and have sexual relations with whomever they wish, whether male or female.

One of the problems (there are many) with this argument is that you cannot measure human flourishing with the yardstick of present and momentary feelings.  Nor can you measure it through the limited categories of individual (or even communal) human perspectives.  From a purely sociological point of view, human flourishing has to be measured by at least three things: the demonstrated character of the person, the ongoing interpersonal engagement of that person with other persons, and the ultimate well-being of all those impacted by such practices over the course of a significant period time.

In general, people with reliable and loving character are better off and more beneficent than those who consistently make poor and selfish choices.  You can always find exceptions, of course—someone who has bucked the general system by (for example) chain-smoking and drinking heavily for 60 years, but is still able to make lots of friends, hold down a job, never get lung cancer, or have a DWI conviction.  But this is an exception precisely because it is rare and unusual.

The rapidity with which our society has flung open the doors to same-sex marriage, widespread drug use, overt sexual experimentation, celebration of transgenderism, and government-funded medical and chemical sex-change procedures, even performed on adolescents and children, doesn’t just sadden me; it greatly alarms me.

Bald internalist expressions of self-generated ideas of what it means to flourish are deeply problematic because they cut themselves off from the corrective and collective wisdom shared in and with other humans (not to mentioned God Himself) long before any of us came onto the social scene.

I fear we are only just beginning to see the long-term damage and fallout of a contemporary society that has embraced individualistically (im)moral positions that will lead to lasting and long-term psychological dysfunction and societal destruction—ironically, all in the name of greater psychological health and human flourishing!

In the past, people had these same thoughts and did many of these same things, but they entertained and did them in the face of a social consensus which considered them abnormal, harmful, immoral, and anti-social.  Even these people often considered them to be self-destructive and wrong but felt like they just couldn’t stop themselves.  Now, such expressions are celebrated and promoted as the best and greatest means to human flourishing.  As a result, we live in a society that is more suicidal, unhappy, dysfunctional, and drug-addled than at any other time in its history.

But far worse and more dangerous than this, these lifestyles also drive people away from the One who made them for a better and more meaningful purpose in this life.  It also endangers any opportunity they might have to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him for all eternity.  Against the pursuit of happiness in this life, God beckons to us to surrender to and be reconciled to Him through faith in Jesus Christ, and then follow hard after the arduous but deeply rewarding pursuit of His holiness instead.

Jeremiah 6:16 puts it this way: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Similarly, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

God has given us paths to take and yokes to shoulder so that we might genuinely flourish in this life as well as in the life that is to come.  But at the same time, the second part of Jeremiah 6:16 is tragically telling: “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  As a result, the nation of Israel, and all who were part of it, suffered significantly.

God’s offer for true flourishing remains, but the choice to surrender to Him and pursue it is still ours to make.  Above all the din and clamor for a more “progressive,” “open,” and “free” society, God calls to and beckons us back into the safe confines of an eternal love relationship with Him.  He offers His biblically-revealed ancient paths and ways to genuine and everlasting human flourishing, and He shows us that we were created to embody and reflect His holiness, experiencing and enjoying His sweet fellowship in the midst a world deeply distorted, marred, and broken by sin.

Do you want to truly flourish?  Take up the yoke of Jesus and walk in God’s ancient paths by the power of His Spirit and you will experience His ultimate and enduring rest in this life as well as eternal life in the one that is to come.


Fulfilling Our Deepest Desires


The recent death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was another reminder of the radical and sweeping changes over the past 40-50 years regarding popular attitudes toward human sexuality.  While many things could be said about these seismic transformations, two major and interrelated claims have emerged which bear special mention.

First, sexual fulfillment—whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature—is now considered centrally important to human identity and flourishing.  Second, and closely related, we are told that suppressing and rebuffing strong sexual desire not only leads to unhappiness, it is detrimental to human well-being and may even lead to psychosis.

The idea that strong personal desires should be sublimated (redirected) and subjugated (denied) in contemporary life is not only considered unreasonable, it’s deemed downright dangerous.  Instead, we are repeatedly told that life is fuller and more meaningful when we pursue and fulfill the deepest and strongest desires of our hearts, especially those that are sexual.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the fulfillment of our heart’s desires is actually biblical language.  Consider, for example, Psalm 37:4 where David says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

There are at least two things to notice here.  First, the desires of our heart arise from delighting first and foremost in the Lord.  When we delight in God, He gives us desires for good and noble things, and then fulfills those desires as we trust and seek Him.  Second, however, there is an implication: Our heart’s desires could also be directed toward what is evil and base.  This is why Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”  In fact, we have a choice in the matter.

The decision to delight in the Lord above all other persons and things is the essential and indispensable prerequisite for experiencing divine fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desires.  Our heart has to be redirected and reshaped by the things that the Lord loves and values.  When we consciously and continually choose to delight in Him, our desires become very different than what they used to be.

At the same time, however, we must admit that our delight in the Lord is never perfect or uninterrupted.  We still struggle with those pesky and sometimes overwhelming evil desires of the flesh.  As James 1:14-15 explains, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

This dangerous element of strong wrong desire leading to sin is not taken seriously enough in contemporary society, a society that now expects and demands our deepest desires—especially sexual ones—to be granted every right and opportunity to be fulfilled.  In this context, we rarely, if ever, want to be told what we can and cannot do as well as when we can and cannot do it.  Human selfishness and sin make us prone to demand whatever we want, as much as we want, as often as we want it.  But these are the attitudes of spoiled children, not mature adults.  Mature adults learn to curb their voracious and capacious appetites.  But how do we become mature?  We must do two basic things: subjugate and sublimate our desires.

To subjugate our desires means we must bring them under the Lordship of Christ.  No matter how strong they are, no matter how much our society has told us we have every right to fulfill them, all our desires must be placed upon the alter of the Lord.  As we do, He may or may not see fit to fulfill them, but when we offer them up to Him, He gives us the grace to resist temptation and develop spiritual maturity and strength.

The second thing we are called to do is sublimate our desires.  Here, we consciously redirect them so that they might either be fulfilled in their proper contexts or be turned into desires for something or someone better and greater.

In speaking about subjugation in Colossians 3:5, the Apostle Paul uses the language of homicide and slaughter: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

When Paul speaks about sublimation and the redirection of desire in Philippians 3:8-10, he highlights the incomparable joy of knowing Jesus Christ above all else.  He knows that without something or someone better and greater to gaze at and aspire to, we would easily fall back into fulfilling our desires for lesser and ultimately harmful and dehumanizing things.

The world is wrong about many of our deepest human desires.  Their denial and redirection, far from harming our humanity, is most often the pathway to a deeper knowledge of God and a greater experience of who we as human beings were meant and created to be.

As we continually submit our desires to God, we can, like Asaph in Psalm 73:25-26, honestly say of Him, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Where is the LGBTQIA movement taking us? Part 2

Where are we going

In the last post we looked at how the LGBTQIA movement has begun influencing Christian sexual ethics in the church as well as radically altered society’s concept of marriage. Here we examine some of the movement’s potential impact on religious freedom and human flourishing.

Let me begin by emphasizing that what I am about to say is admittedly controversial, and the issues are complicated by the fact that many are currently nothing more than speculations about the future. That is notoriously tricky business and I do not claim the status or wisdom of a prophet. I do, however, believe there is value in sharing warnings and concerns about the logical legal and social ramifications of what the LGBTQIA movement is trying to achieve. If our society is supporting and celebrating ways of life that go against the character and design of God, there will likely be a detrimental impact for everyone, including our religious freedom.

Impact on Religious Freedom

I will not address what the US Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage might mean in the secular job market. It’s an important question that has problems and concerns all its own, but for now, if we’re honest, the majority of both those who oppose and support this decision—straight, gay, and otherwise—are, at least for a while, unlikely to experience any great change in the daily concerns and opportunities of their lives. My more immediate concern, however, pertains to the longer-term impact it may have on religious freedom in general and on Christianity in particular.

Many legal pundits have expressed significant concerns about the future of Christian schools, churches, and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle. It is likely they will face not only social ridicule but significant legal and financial challenges as well.

What is of special concern, far more than the average person on the street, are the activist members of the LGBTQIA movement who are not content to let the issue stop where it stands. As has been demonstrated in Canada over the past ten years, these minority activists will not cease their quest until no one has a public opportunity to oppose same-sex marriage.

The good news is our country has a long history of protecting religious freedom and supporting conscientious objection. The troubling news is that recent actions and rulings have suggested that this particular issue is unlikely to be viewed as publicly opposable, even by overtly religious organizations and institutions.

The reason for this is relatively simple. LGBTQIA activists have successfully lobbied for the view that homosexuals (for example) are a protected class of people just like blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities. Again, this tact only works if homosexuality is seen as more than a lifestyle and is linked to the notion of inherent identity. There is irony here, of course. The LGBTQIA movement wants to leave the door open for people to revise and change their sexuality as they wish, while simultaneously retaining a static racial class designation. Strangely, few seem to have noticed the potentially conflicting and competing nature of these two advocacies. But if the racial class category is legally invoked, then the notion of discrimination becomes paramount to the discussion. In this case, religious objection is placed in immediate jeopardy.

Perhaps an illustrative example will help with understanding here. If a school tries to claim on religious grounds that it will not hire a qualified interracial married couple to teach there solely because their marriage is interracial, it is likely to lose in a court battle because the state will side with plaintiffs, considering it to be a clear instance of racial discrimination. Now, change the couple to a legally married same-sex couple. If the marriage is legal and the state considers homosexuals a protected class, the school will have a much harder time defending itself against the charge of discrimination.

In view of this, the current consensus is that organizations and churches refusing to hire legally married homosexuals are likely to lose their tax-exempt status under this rubric of discrimination. Similarly, Christian schools refusing to hire or admit legally married gay people could also lose their tax-exempt status along with all federal grants and loans. Money is often power and these are relatively easy ways the government and courts can pressure institutions to conform to the new morality. In addition, credibility is power and because academic accreditation is frequently linked to conformity with government mandates, religious schools refusing to comply would probably lose public accreditation. This is likely to result in a rapid decline in student enrollment since most students rely on federal funding and many careers require that an employee graduate from a publicly accredited institution.

Some, including those inside the church, feel that tax exemption, accreditation, and federal funding are unnecessary perks for Christian institutions and organizations anyway. Many countries offer no such benefits and churches and schools are still able to thrive in those places. Perhaps they are right. But our government originally granted tax exemption (for example) because it believed Christianity added great value to society and should be recognized and supported for it. Revoking such status illustrates the fundamental shift in national sentiment regarding the perceived public importance and value of religion in general and Christianity in particular. This is tragic, partly because the church has probably failed to demonstrate adequately that it really is adding significant social value. I will say more on this in my future posts on how the church might respond to what is happening in a more Christ-like manner.

I do want to emphasize that these aforementioned scenarios are not just hypothetical. To give a concrete personal example, my son attends Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I was recently conversing with Moody president, J. Paul Nyquist. about these issues. In his excellent book, Prepare (Moody Press, 2015), Nyquist lays out the legal pathway our nation has taken to come to this sad state of affairs, giving the church some much-needed warnings, but also great hope and encouragement. He mentioned that should Moody’s tax-exempt status be revoked, it would be very hard to come up with the kind of revenue required to pay ongoing property taxes on some of the costliest prime real estate in all of Chicago. In a best-case scenario, the school might not close, but it would likely be forced to sell its campus where it has been for nearly 130 years and relocate away from the heart of the city. It would be a tragic departure from founder D. L. Moody’s original vision to not merely minister and care for to the poor and needy of the inner city, but to also live and work among them.

Sadly, many schools and organizations will close like the foster care and adoption services of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington DC. Because of its religious convictions, it refused to comply with the local government’s demand that it place children with same-sex couples. Public funding was cut off, and after eighty years of helping foster children and orphans find families, the doors had to be closed. Not all schools, churches, and organizations will close, of course. God will keep open those He chooses to keep open, but it will be harder for them and tough changes and decisions will have to be made.

On a more individual level, the impact on free speech rights and conscientious objection are much more difficult to predict at this point, so I leave this as an open question. Some recent “hate speech” laws and rulings leave me and others uneasy, but I am not an alarmist and remain hopeful that continued room will be retained for respectful religious dissent and honest dialogue among all who disagree.

Impact on Human Flourishing

These days, there’s a lot of talk about “human flourishing.” I conclude this post by first raising concerns about the overall wellbeing of our society and particularly those actively participating in alternative sexual lifestyles. Until recently, precious little attention was given to what actually happens to such persons over extended periods of time.

Previously, people often blamed a sense of rejection and a lack of social acceptance on the significantly higher rates of suicide, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse within the homosexual community. But even as society has increasingly embraced the LGBTQIA agenda, evidence of psychological dysfunction has not diminished at all. And this is one of the saddest aspects of the whole trajectory of the movement. Many truly believe that with the advent of widespread social embrace and acceptance, the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction for which so many in this camp have longed and hoped will finally materialize. However, because this is a false understanding of human flourishing, I am convinced it will only be a matter of time before they realize they have not achieved greater personal peace and wellbeing.

In terms of social impact and family flourishing, many children raised by homosexual parents are just now reaching adulthood and starting to speak out about the numerous dysfunctional aspects of being raised in same-sex households. Many of the stories are fraught with sexual abuse, confusion, pain, and trauma.

Although some of the media silence over these sad stories is probably agenda-driven, part of the reason so little has been shared along these lines is that we are only at the beginning of this unprecedented sociological experiment and the potential tsunami of cultural changes that may eventually sweep over us in the aftermath of this seismic moral shift. There has not been enough time to see what the widespread, long-term impact of these decisions will be, but because this is a blatant rejection of God’s design plan, I am genuinely concerned.

Let me clarify: I am not saying this simply to condemn these advocates and rail against their immoral agenda as if God was some sort of arbitrary cosmic killjoy. God is clear that we are not designed to live and act this way. Sin has deluded all of us—gay and straight—into thinking human flourishing springs from pushing against God’s design plan in one way or another. Thus, I speak out about these things because so few are talking about them, and it does no one any favors, least of all those caught up in such lifestyles, to remain silent about the increasingly documented detrimental aspects of this way of life.

In addition, I am certainly not suggesting all—or even most—practicing homosexuality are moral monsters or social misfits. Every human being, myself included, is deeply marred by sin in its multifarious forms. Thank God, His glorious grace shines into the darkest of places, and He grants His goodness in even the most base of situations (cf. Matthew 5:45). But this does not mean we endorse and legitimize the dysfunctions that stem from our sinful desires and actions. Wise governments do just the opposite by creating laws and programs that discourage the fulfillment of such things. We have to explain that certain lifestyles wander farther from the path of God’s design than others. We do no one any favors by pretending all lifestyles are equally good—or equally bad for that matter. The moral choices we make in light of the desires and temptations that we face draw us nearer and farther away from the life God intends.

The Bible also makes it clear in Psalm 73:3-5 that sometimes the wicked really do prosper—for a time. Sometimes sin really does bring success in the eyes of the world—for a time. But scripture also tells us God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7) and sooner of later, sin will bring to ruin those who practice and promote it, either in this life or the next.

It’s hard to say where all of this is going or where it will end, but over time, sin tends to reveal its true colors. Time will show the multiple ways these sins will damage and destroy human wellbeing and flourishing. Again, that is the tragedy of the LGBTQIA movement. Through the ruling of the US supreme court and the use of modern technologies like sex-change operations and hormone therapy, they may well have their deepest desires fulfilled and still find they are not ultimately satisfied, because the issues run much deeper than mere feelings of attraction and the hormonal and anatomical. They will discover the hard way that they set their hopes on empty promises and unsubstantial aspirations. It will not be the realization of a great new society of boundless love and undifferentiated equality. Rather, it will be a greater unleashing of sin’s tragic power to enslave, degrade, disfigure, devastate, and destroy those who embrace it in the name of freedom, equality, and self-actualization.

I weep for these people. I weep for our nation and world. “Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In our final two installments, we will conclude by looking briefly at some of the more pastoral issues surrounding the LGBTQIA agenda and consider some of the ways the church might respond in an increasingly Christ-like manner.