In 1931, the year of his birth, James Truslow Adams expressed the idea of the American Dream: "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The question that comes to mind is “better and richer and fuller than what, exactly?”
Should each generation expect one’s life to be better and richer and fuller than that of one’s parents? One’s grandparents’? In today’s texting terms, do we, as Americans, have a right to expect life to be BRF (better, richer and fuller) than the lives of anyone living anywhere else? Do parents have a responsibility to work to provide the BRFL to their children, or is the responsibility that of the government…or churches…or social agendas…or the kids themselves?
What does the Bible say about living the good life?
According to Proverbs 18:22, the man who finds a wife has it “good.” I knew a retired missionary who disliked the translation that said “he who finds a wife finds a good thing.” He felt it was disrespectful to women, who are not “things” at all. The problem was with the translation, not the sentiment. Biblically, marriage is a blessing, part of the full life God intended for his children. But not everyone is married. Not every marriage lasts. Surely those who are single can hope for a fulfilling life as well.
Solomon—who had a thousand wives but is, oddly, considered by many to be the wisest man ever to live—wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:18 that what is “good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him” (ESV). Note that he did not say anything about all those women! Apparently, quantity isn’t everything. The concept of work, though…that’s a key. A good life involves the joy of accomplishing a task, enjoying the fruit of one’s labors...not being handed everything on a silver platter or through a government direct-deposit check.
Peter wrote in his first letter (3:1)) that whoever “desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” Peter points to the personal responsibility aspect of happiness. If you want the good life, practice good behavior. Not a bad hook to hang one’s life hat on, as long as we realize that bad things happen even to the best of folks. When tragedy comes, however, those who have made it a lifestyle to live responsibly are better equipped to face the day than those who have chosen lives of selfishness.
The American Dream can easily leave us thinking that we are entitled to more, to better, to lives of ease. My father’s generation knows better, having learned the lessons of the Great Depression instilled by their own parents, participating in the second “war to end all wars.” Even so, Daddy and his peers tried, as all loving parents try, to offer their children better lives than their own. Every generation does this, not because of the American Dream, but because of love.
Good lives are possible because we have a good God, not a certain government or national identity or gender or ethnicity or career or spouse or parent. But I am so very thankful that I have the father I do.