By Dr. Paul M. Gould

In my last post, I suggested that a good professor is one who joins with God in the task of making fully functioning humans as part of her role within the university. This led directly to the question: what does human flourishing look like? The answer comes in three parts. Human flourishing has an individual, social, and teleological component.

  • Individual component: humans flourish when they are rightly related to the self. In other words, we flourish when we are morally and intellectually integrated. A flourishing life is a life of moral and intellectual virtue.
  • Social component: humans flourish in right relationship with others: the animate and inanimate world, other humans, and most importantly, God. Man’s highest good and greatest need is union with God. We were created to know God and be known by God. And we were created to live in harmonious communion with others as we faithfully steward the created world.
  • Teleological component: On the objective scale of value, as already noted, the highest good for humans is union with God. In addition, and importantly, a perfectly loving God cares about what you care about and so there is a subjective scale of value for each individual too. In other words, every human has a unique work to do, and this unique work or telos matters too. To provide a personal example, one of the deep desires of my heart is to teach. My heart sings in the classroom. When I teach, I express part of God’s great work for me, a work God has prepared in advance for me (Ephesians 2:10). This subjective scale of value—relative to each human and their unique purpose—get folded into the objective scale of value as we take our place in God’s unfolding drama in the world.

Summing up then: We become most human when we take our place, as fully-integrated beings, in God’s unfolding story. In other words, we become most human when we become like Christ and take up our role in the gospel story. This vision of the good life has significant implications for us as university professors when it comes to our teaching, research, and service.

In our teaching, we view knowledge as intrinsically valuable. Humans were created to be nourished on truth (and goodness and beauty too). We function as a kind of John the Baptist as we teach truth—about rocks, trees, molecules, human nature, love, justice, planets, and more. All of it is God’s. All of it is sacred. In our teaching, invite others on the quest for truth. Awaken this deep longing, so often muted in society, to know the truth about the world, God, and the self.

In our research, we study the things of God and the world of man. Seek to make connections between the subject of your discipline, the needs of the world, and the gospel. The connections might not be obvious, but they are there.

In our service and relating, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who put others before self. In an academic environment that prizes achievement, prestige, and progress, practice acts of mercy: go the extra mile for the student who doesn’t deserve it, serve on that dreaded committee, and share your privilege with those less fortunate.

Peter’s words apply to each of you individually and corporately as Christian professors:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light... Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:9, 12)

Goodness, like truth and beauty, points to and finds its source in Christ. As we grow in Christ-likeness as professors and take our place in God’s story, we will flourish as God intended, bring blessing and shalom to all as we join with God and others in the making of humanity itself.