A Life Well-Lived

  Twenty-three hundred years ago, Greek philosophers known as Epicureans believed that chance governed the universe. Since individuals had no influence over their circumstances, the most they hoped for was that their experiences were pleasant. This belief was, somewhat inaccurately, summed up in the phrase, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." While this epigram doesn't do justice to the Epicureans, it perfectly sums up the worldview of one of America's corporate giants: Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Recent news reports to do with his most recent divorce have shed light on Welch's lifestyle. Even after he retired, General Electric provided Welch with a luxury apartment on Central Park West, free travel on company jets, and it continued to provide him with the good things of life: flowers, furniture, opera tickets, and even stamps. These disclosures about sticking GE with the tab for his lifestyle embarrassed Welch, who agreed to reimburse the company. But there's no evidence that Welch is rethinking his idea of the good life. Quite to the contrary, during an appearance at a public forum, Welch was asked what he had learned from a brush with death seven years earlier: Had he had an epiphany during his heart surgery? His answer: "I learned I didn't spend enough money." When pressed -- they thought he was joking -- he added that, after his bypass surgery, he vowed never again to drink wine that cost less than one hundred dollars a bottle -- and he was completely serious. What a sad answer. What's even sadder is that Welch is hardly unique in this regard. The past decade was characterized by a frenzied consumption, in which your choice of olive oil, kitchen gadgets, underclothes, and cars became a "spiritual" matter. Consumption as spirituality, like Epicureanism, is the product of a purely materialistic understanding of the universe. After a century and a half of Darwinism, materialistic worldviews have deprived people of any sense of purpose to life. For many Westerners, chance does govern the universe. We are simply products of forces that did not have us in mind. If that's the case, it makes sense to do all you can to maximize your material enjoyment. Whether it's drinking the best wine, eating the best food, or flying in a private jet, it makes no sense not to spend more money if this life is all there is. But what a bankrupt and hopeless way to live. Christians know that chance doesn't govern the universe -- that there's much more to our existence than this transitory life. Because of this, we never lack purpose. I get up every day excited that I've got something I can do that day to serve God, to help make a difference in the lives of others. Every Christian ought to feel this way, and those who understand the Gospel do. I remember Myrtie Howell whom I wrote about in the book, Loving God. Despite being in her nineties and in ill health, Myrtie was writing to dozens of inmates every week, leading many to Christ. I visited her in the nursing home, and she was full of joy and excitement. The contrast between Myrtie Howell and an American business icon is a reminder of why the biblical worldview is so important. Knowing where we've come from -- and that we're created in the image of God -- helps us understand how we should live. It's what keeps us from confusing the "good life" with a life well-lived. For further information: Philip Kennicott, "Rich with Irony," Washington Post, 14 October 2002, C1 (archived article -- cost $2.95 to retrieve). "Divorce duel reveals Welch's perks," CNN, 6 September 2002. Robert Trigaux, "Welch divorce will deflate superhero myth," St. Petersburg Times, 24 March 2002. Michael Novak, Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (Free Press, 1996). Charles Colson, Loving God (Zondervan, 1996). Richard John Neuhaus, As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning (Basic Books, 2002). The Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy website offers more information on the history of this school of thought.


Chuck Colson



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