So, last week we looked at how we might start to live the good life. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a bit recently. What does it mean to live a good life? What even is a good life? While I was doing that I came across a particular system of living – an ethos if you will – that not only seems to me to make a lot of sense, but also seems to be congruent with a biblical understanding of people and the world.
This system of living (an ethical system), has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, and is known as virtue ethics. The reason that I like this ‘system’ – and I use the term loosely – is because the focus is not so much on a set of rules, as in other ethical systems like deontology or utilitarianism, rather, the focus is on the character of the person who is performing the act. If the person is a ‘good person’ then they will perform good acts. This echoes, for me, the teaching of Jesus, which focused, not so much on having a set of rules for every situation – which we seem to be obsessed with these days – but rather focused on the disposition of our heart. Rather than trying to get us to obey certain moral laws, Jesus would have us love Him with all of our being, and once we do that, then, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, heart transformation and salvation occur. We then become good people. Of course, this is an act of God, rather than ours, which transforms our hearts to be these good people, which is why we listed the three ‘theological’ virtues – virtues only given by God.
We come to the question again, having reflected on the congruence of virtue ethics with our Christian understanding of the world, of how, exactly do we become these people.
Aristotle put it this way;
“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.”
If we want to become the person who is a virtuous person, one who embodies the virtues – primarily of faith, hope, and love, – then we need to practice them. We only become something, or someone by doing that act over and over and over again.
Think of how you developed the skill of riding a bike, or how you developed the skill of kicking a ball. You would practice. How did you learn to touch type on a keyboard? You practiced until your fingers knew where the keys were without you having to use your eyes. It had become ingrained in you.
That is the thing that we need to do with our faith, hope and love. As well as with out justice, prudence, temperance, and courage. If we want to be able to be just, then we need to practice justice and fairness, as much as we can. If we want the restraint, or discernment that comes with prudence then we have to practice it. We have to set up for ourselves each day, little things that we can do that will push us towards those goals. We need to face our fears – not recklessly – we need to cultivate the faith that God has given us. We need to love others as Christ has loved us.
According to virtue ethics, in order to know what the virtues look like, you need to find a virtuous person and model your life off of theirs. The good news is that we already know the Virtuous Person, and Christians have been being conformed to His image for almost 2000 years!
Question: How can you look to Jesus to find out what a virtuous life looks like? How can you set up little habits each day to grow in these virtues?