Letter from the Editor

By Phillip Hanson

    3 min. Read Time

Published January 1st, 2021

            What is a good life? We are now well into the beginning of winter. The colder months are here, the snow, the dark. For many, this is a depressing season. Furthermore, we are in a time of isolation and distance. What is a good life, and what are those things which give good life? Shall I say that it is the absence of dark clouds and cold months? Is a good  life only waiting for me when the warm sun rises? Is the good life the presence of others and the fellowship of a full and abundant table? While perhaps I must admit that the answer is yes, I struggle to affirm the opposite: I must then say that the absence of these things means the absence of good life; that life is impossible without sunny skies or warm weather. That, life is dead and dreary without a great community. While this might be true, I struggle to place flourishing upon the changing conditions of life and the shifting seasons of time. Will I make life contingent upon what transpires around me? Will I make myself a slave to shaping the conditions of my life, striving and running after every good thing which I believe will make my life good? Maybe if I take this job or move to this city, maybe if I live with these people in this house or start doing this thing or that thing, then I will have life. I run around so much trying to shape my circumstances in order to make my life worthwhile. I am a slave to life. I have become tired of running after it. 
            That is why virtue has become so important and necessary to my life. What leads to good life? Virtue. Virtues are those things which lead to the good life, not just for an individual but for the world. They are those things which put the world back together. It is virtue that shows us a life worth living amidst any circumstance, trial or tribulation. 
            This is what most impresses me about these 7 virtues which Christian tradition identified. Chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility; all these virtues are found most profoundly in adversity, some are not found at all apart from adversity. Chastity or faithfulness is not found apart from temptation. Charity or love is seen most profoundly when given to the undeserving. We admire diligence in adversity. Patience is only possible in the midst of suffering (hence, “longsuffering”). Kindness works most profoundly amid hostility, injustice, and envy. I would say that all of these virtues work most profoundly in less than desirable circumstances rather than the ideal ones. These virtues start with the premise of life going wrong.[1] Thus, if these virtues point us toward a vision of life that is worth living, then it would seem that a good life is predicated on adversity. That might be going a little too far, but I am making a point. Suffering is not necessary for a good life, but every life will have suffering. The constitution of a good life is what we will choose to do amidst suffering. 
            Suffering visits us all. Sin touches all our lives. Injustice surrounds, darkness closes in and destruction abounds. Virtues are the weapons and tools we have to fight against these forces and put the world back together. Virtues are the furnishings of a good life, and they are found within the muck and mire of life. So let us not run from it then, nor run to new and better furnishings which dazzle and entice. Let us build our house on and fill it with virtue so that a good life ⁠— a life worthy of our humanity[2]⁠ — might follow.

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Footnotes:

            [1] This wording comes from an episode of the podcast For the Life of the World with a Jewish Rabbi, from which this letter is inspired. Miroslav Volf, Rav. Jonathan Sacks, “Rabbi Sacks on Etching Everyday Existence with the Charisma of Holiness/ Jonathan Sacks and Miroslav Volf” For the Life of the World, podcast audio, July 16, 2018. Accessed Dec. 30, 2020: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/rabbi-sacks-on-etching-everyday-existence-charisma/id1505076294?i=100049857693. 
            [2] See: Ibid., This phrase is taken from and inspired by the world of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and their podcast, For the Life of the World

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