The mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. We seek to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing.
That phrase—“human flourishing”—has become such a buzzword, though, that it’s in danger of losing any real meaning. As Scott Swain says, “Due to its widespread usage across our culture, its susceptibility to multiple meanings, and its role in theological revision, some Christians have begun to disparage the language of human flourishing. I think this is the wrong tactic to take.”
The church has a stake in human flourishing, says Swain. Rather than discard the term, we should rescue and restore the concept:
The challenge for the church is therefore to define and promote human flourishing (which we might otherwise describe as human well-being, human happiness) in accordance with biblical teaching, to present and commend its alternative approach to human flourishing in the face of competing cultural visions, and to embody human flourishing in the presence of God amid a culture of death and destruction. Christian theology has a role to play in assisting the church to meet this challenge.
Christian theology has a lot to say about human flourishing. Following the instruction of Holy Scripture, Christian theology instructs us about human flourishing by instructing us about human nature and about human nature’s relationship to law and gospel.
Swain argues that “we may appreciate the true character of human flourishing by looking at Psalm 19.”
According to Psalm 19, nature flourishes when it fulfills its God-glorifying aim by following its God-given course. Nature’s aim is to glorify God. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (19.1). Nature glorifies God by running the course given to it by God. The “circuit” of the sun’s rising and setting is the “course” that it runs (19.5-6).
Psalm 19 portrays nature’s flourishing by personifying nature as something capable of happiness and joy. The sun runs its course “with joy,” “like a bridegroom leaving its chamber” and “like a strong man” running his race. Note well: Nature’s flourishing is internal to its course and its aim. Happiness is not something that comes in addition to nature’s fulfillment of its divine calling. Happiness comes within nature’s fulfillment of its divine calling.