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The Good Life 1, Know Thyself

May 19, 2018

In his Essay on Man (1734), Alexander Pope wrote: Know thyself. Presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading biography, memoir, the Bible, and even novels. My friend in writing class published her memoir, Struck by Joy, available on Amazon, No life is all joy – but we treasure the moments, and we bring them out of memory like treasured gifts in times of sorrow. I congratulate my friend for her honest work.

What is the best way of being a person? Examining your own life is not an easy task. We tend to blame others when life does not work out the way we expected it to. Passing blame is easy – revealing ourselves is hard. From where do we get the cornerstone of our souls?

Thomas Wolfe died this week. He was gifted with a plethora of words, of sounds, of meaning, and he invented his persona – a southern gentleman who glimpsed the trials of a constantly changing society and explained what he saw. I don’t believe he did any harm, and perhaps some good in his meaningful life.

Jesus, Mohammed, and Budda are well known examples of well-lived lives. Each founded a system of beliefs, a religion, practiced by most of us in varying degrees at varying times. They each pointed to a direction in a well lived life: but life is complicated and the directions are subject to interpretation. Acting as men with heavenly connections, they left their wisdom to posterity. Learning about ourselves seals our relationship with the God we only sense.

Virtues are the undeniable characteristics of a “good life.” Knowing them and absorbing them take effort. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” says Pope in his Essay on Criticism, 1709. We tend to avoid the labor of shoveling too deeply, and we become stuck in our paradigms. Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but do we want to make the effort to examine our beliefs?

Solomon explains that wisdom is better than rubies (Proverbs 8: 11) and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9: 10) Moses wrote God’s Ten Commandments on stone, and Jesus whittled them down to one. LOVE, and you will enjoy a good life.

But how did that work out?


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