Unleashing Human Flourishing

By Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley

We hear a lot of talk about flourishing in our culture today and it’s a good thing to talk about and deeply ponder. Christians have a unique perspective to offer the world on this most important topic. In a world where people struggle for meaning and purpose we can return to scripture as our guide to faith and practice and to help us understand who we are in the context of God’s designs and desires for us and His Creation.

It is humbling to reflect on what we see in the Creation story as revealed in Genesis. God, out of nothing, created the world. The world works on God-designed operating principles and it does so for the express purpose of human flourishing. When we see the word shalom in the scriptures, we often translate this as peace or the absence of conflict, and its true that flourishing does involve peace. But it is so much more. We can uniquely contribute to and experience human flourishing when we live into God’s designs and discover our purpose. We are imago dei, which means we reflect and bear the image of God. This is the essential starting point of our anthropology. We are here because God created us to be here and he created us to work. We see this in Genesis 2:15 “God put man in the garden to work it and care for it.”  We are to work the garden, which means we are to cultivate, to change, to learn, discover and create. This comes from our status as image bearers and implies that in the ordinary work of being a dishwasher, engineer, scientist or janitor we can and are able to serve others.

This requires that we must figure out what our unique skills and talents are and put them to productive use. We, unlike God, cannot create something out of nothing, but we can create something out of something. In fact, that’s our purpose.  We are to build families, build communities, build cities and much, but not all, of that happens through commerce and exchange. Thus, we need a society that fosters community and cooperation.  We need a world in which fallen sinners, who make all kinds of mistakes, can be directed to think of others and to serve the common good. This can and does happen through entrepreneurship when it is guided by virtuous principles and bounded by markets.

We need a society that takes each of us, on our worst days, and induces us to ascertain needs and fill them through the productive use of our human ingenuity and creativity. The beauty of all of this is that the market system offers such incentives and allows each of us the unique opportunity to serve others through specialization and the division of labor. Markets which are guided by prices, profits and losses and property rights, induce entrepreneurs to best direct our scarce resources toward life-improving and wealth creating activities. This gives us greater capacity to serve our neighbors and to advance the well-being of strangers. We should all seek to extend the cooperative nature of commerce for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom and purposes, in the present and eternally.


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