What does it mean to live a good life? I mean, at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, we don’t just want to exist, but we want to be able to look back and say, yes, I lived a good life.
So what does it mean to live a good life?
Is it about creating circumstances that society and the people around us consider as good? Or is a good life something beyond and apart from our circumstances?
And who decides what a good life is and who gets to experience it?
Conflict Over Who Defines a Good Life
When we read today’s story, the actual healing of the blind man takes up only a small part of it. The bulk of the story is about the man’s conflict with his neighbours and authorities. As I read it over and over, I began to see that what lay at the heart of these conflicts is a power struggle about who could define what it meant to live a good life.
In Jesus’ time, living a good life as a Jewish person meant to live in a right relationship with God as part of God’s people. Being in a right relationship with God meant making sure sin was removed from one’s life.
Blindness. One was born blind because of sin. There was no cure for blindness. It was a permanent fact. Therefore, being blind meant that sin was a permanent part of who you were. This meant that you could never be a part of God’s people and had to be separated from God’s community. This is why the blind man had to sit and beg, on the periphery and margins of the community.
So according to the prevailing beliefs of his community, he could never live a good life.
But then Jesus comes and turns the prevailing view of blindness on its head:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; (rather) he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3)
Jesus provides a radical new interpretation of the man’s circumstance! He is not blind because of sin. Which means that he could live a good life after all. Which also means that he no longer needs to be separated from his people. Sin is no longer a permanent part of who he is.
But those around him could not accept this new interpretation. They couldn’t get out of their old mindset. To his neighbours, this man was a sinner – that was the only they had ever seen him and knew him.
And so they bring him to the authorities who define and interpret what a good life is. The Pharisees define for the community what it means to live a good life and who can live it. They say that being born blind means that you were born with sin. But this man poses a threat to that belief. His mere presence threatens their very credibility and legitimacy. If the Pharisees are wrong about this belief, then how can they be right about other definitions of a good life?
And so they question this man and try to get him to change his story. When he refuses to do so, their true views come out, and they exercise their power to get rid of this threat:
“They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.” (John 9:34)
Allowing Others to Define the Good Life
As I reflected on what it means to live a good life, I started to realize just how much our definition of a good life is defined by others and attached to how accepted we are by others.
To survive in our society these days, we need to be acceptable to the people and organizations that are going to pay for our bills. Being accepted by these people and organizations requires various things: some require good grades, others require good experience, others require ability to work well with others.
We live in a fiercely competitive world and society. I can see this at play intensely among our young people. In our Hi-C, I see so much pressure to take the right courses, get high grades, win awards and make good impressions. This pressure continues on into university. I know for our College Group folks – welcome back! Especially for those who finished first year, I know that it was like nothing you experienced before – the amount of work, the level of competitiveness, all the smart people who have congregated. Welcome to the rest of your life! Cause after that, young adults try to establish a career. Once you have children, the worries shift to them, to ensure that they too can survive and thrive in this competitive society.
Without realizing it, we have come to define a good life as our ability to survive and thrive in our economic system. And don’t get me wrong – we need to survive and function in this world. We can’t be naive about that.
But I ask myself: is surviving and thriving in our economic system what defines us as human beings? Are we simply cogs in this great machine that can spit us out at any time? Is the meaning of our existence simply to exist and survive?
And then we have the expectations of those around us. Our families and our cultures define what it means to be a good son, a good daughter, a good father and a good mother. To meet these definitions is what it means to live a good life.
Many of us saw our parents struggle to establish a foothold here in Canada. We saw their struggles, their lack of esteem in this society and their sacrifices. The expectations placed on us and that we placed on ourselves was to validate these sacrifices. The way to do that was to thrive in our economic and social system. So we made these things the purpose and drive of our existence.
But what happens to us when our lives revolve around survival and meeting the expectations of others?
First, our sense of well-being becomes very dependent on our circumstances. We work so hard to create circumstances that are considered to be part of a good life. If we don’t achieve those circumstances, then we either work harder, or become resigned to living a life that is not as good as it should be.
If we have achieved circumstances considered as good, we work hard just to maintain them.
The underlying emotion behind all of our thoughts, choices and actions is fear. Insecurity. We fear not living the good life that others have defined and that we have uncritically accepted.
But here’s the thing: the longer we go on living in fear – fear of not living the good life – we lose touch with ourselves and who we actually are. We become jaded and fatalistic, thinking that this is just the way life is. We become numb. We become numb because we have not defined for ourselves what a good life really means to me. And so while I am trying to live out the definition of a good life that someone else has laid out, it is not authentic to who I am. I do not have personal ownership of this good life because it’s not something that I have created. But if I let go of this definition of the good life that I’ve adopted, then do I know what a good life really is?
The Blind Man’s Protest
For all of his life, the blind man was told that he was born in sin. He could never live the good life. He was separated from his community. He could have been resigned to his fate and even been very angry and resentful.
But then he heard the voice of Jesus offering a new possibility and a new way of looking at his circumstances. And here, against all odds, he began to believe in the possibility of a new reality. He began to think to himself: “Maybe I am more than one just born in sin! Maybe there is hope for a good life! Maybe I am not predestined to live out my days separated from God! Maybe, just maybe, my life has some worth after all!”
This belief in new possibility began his journey.
Here’s the thing, though: he had no idea at first who Jesus was. He did not have some big religious experience that cured his blindness. When his neighbours first asked him how he received his sight, he simply said “this man Jesus”. When they asked him where he was, he did not know. But as the man becomes more confident in a new definition of a good life, his knowledge of Jesus grows. When the Pharisees first asked him who he thought Jesus was, he said “he is a prophet”. When he is interrogated by them a second time, he declares that Jesus is “from God”.
This new reality was not necessarily a happy ending for him. In the end, he is driven out of his community.
But it is here, alone and rejected, where Jesus finally appears again. He seeks him out, finds him and reveals his true identity to the man. At this point, when the man has come to grips with who he is, he sees Jesus face to face, confesses his belief in him and worships him as his Lord. The man has lost everything else but found real life in Jesus.
Belief in Possibility as the Starting Point to Abundance
In church, we often think that we need to have this great relationship with God or have this great religious experience to begin a faith journey.
But today’s story teaches us that the faith journey really begins with a belief in new possibility.
Martin Luther King Jr helped lead a movement that transformed America and inspired much of the world. At the beginning of this movement, however, things looked bleak. Although they were 100 years removed from slavery, their conditions were still oppressive and grim and the whole system was stacked against them. But there was a deep yearning for a new possibility.
In his very first speech as a leader, he articulated the sentiments of black Americans:
“And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time. We are here, we are here this evening because we’re tired now.”
And thus began one of the greatest movements the world has seen.
To really begin our faith journey, we need to come to grips with ourselves and say that we’re tired. I’m tired of being defined by my circumstances! I’m tired of letting others define who I am! I’m tired of allowing others to define for me what a good life is! I am more than my circumstances! I have the power to define what a good life is, and I have the authority to live that good life!
Our faith journey begins with a protest against the beliefs that limit and numb us. It begins with the belief in a new possibility. In the beginning, just like the blind man, we don’t see God clearly or know much about God. But somehow we hear a voice leading us to question the things that have defined us. This is the gentle voice of God. When we heed this voice, God gives us the courage to define for ourselves what a good life is.
Jesus explained the ultimate purpose of this story in the next chapter:
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Having life starts with seeing ourselves as who we really are. Think about it: we are all so unique and different. We have all had our own life experiences and things that have shaped us. How beautiful is that? We are not machines built on an assembly line, but individuals with thoughts, imaginations, hopes and dreams.
Somewhere on the way, we have forgotten that. Loving ourselves is perhaps the most difficult thing to do in this world, because we are never measuring up to the standards others lay out. But when we begin with the belief in a new possibility, then God opens our eyes and brings us closer to who we are and face to face with God.
My friends, God desires us to live life abundantly. This abundance is not material or circumstantial abundance. It is an inner abundance that springs forth from our awareness of this new possibility and new reality.
With this abundance, we start to see that we are not limited by our circumstances nor by what others define as the good life. Our abundance comes from the awareness that I am uniquely and beautifully created by God, who knows me intimately and loves me so dearly. It comes from the new awareness that I am precious, special and have have enormous value in the eyes of God, no matter what my circumstances or how well I meet the expectations of others.
This, my friends, is what life is meant to be. What an abundant life that is!
May God bless you today, and may our God open your eyes to a new possibility and new reality of life and abundance.
Let us have a time of reflection.
Let us come before God, and reflect on our hearts. Have I been living this abundant life? Or have I been letting others define what a good life is for you? How has this affected me? Has it made me numb and devoid of joy?
My friends, God calls us to reconnect with who we really are: unique, individual, beautiful children of God that God has fashioned with love and care. He is calling each of us into a life rich with abundance.
Let us pray that God opens our eyes to a new possibility of life and a new reality.