Achieving the Good Life
Lately, I have been thinking about morality and the influence it has on human behavior. I remember studying Plato’s allegory of the cave as an undergraduate. This allegory makes reference to achieving the good life. The person must put in the effort to make it out of the cave. This struggle is usually a lifelong journey.
When I was an undergraduate I took a philosophy through film class. The professor paired this reading with the movie You Can’t Take it With You that starred James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, and Lionel Barrymore. If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend it. The plot involves Anthony Kirby (Edward Arnold), a very greedy man who owned a powerful company that is in the process of creating a monopoly in the weapons trade. Mr. Kirby needs to buy all the houses in a twelve block area in order to build a factory and warehouse. If he succeeds it will be the greatest achievement of his career.
When the movie begins, Mr. Kirby had already purchased every house in the area except one: the house owned by Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore). Mr. Vanderhof was a very eccentric man that possessed no interest in making money. Instead, he spent his time with his family and strove to achieve what he considered to be the good life. The plot thickened when Mr. Kirby’s son, Tony Kirby (James Stewart), became engaged to Mr. Vanderhof’s granddaughter, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur).
The young couple struggled with the fact they came from two very different worlds. So they decide to have their families meet. What started out as an awkward evening would lead Anthony Kirby making a life-altering choice. Through the course of conversations between these men, Mr. Kirby learned that Mr. Vanderhof used to be like him. He was a successful businessman who looked out for the almighty dollar and then one day that all changed. Mr. Vanderhof realized this lifestyle was not going to make him happy, so he got back in the elevator, walked out of the building and never looked back. It was a decision that he never regretted.
Mr. Vanderhof chose to live his life for others, helping out friends in need, and spending time with his family. The reason for this was he looked at his life and realized that he would not take any of this stuff with him when he goes. He realized this would have been a waste of his entire life. This is a lesson that Mr. Kirby would also learn. If his business deal would succeed, he would have more money than he ever dreamed of, but he would actually have nothing. Mr. Kirby spent so much time working he did not have anything else that held any value. His marriage was strained and there was a lot of tension in the relationship he had with his son. It is in this way that a wealthy man can actually possess nothing at all.
In Galatians 6, Paul asserts the necessity to examine the works that are achieved in one’s life. He said “if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself.” (Galatians 6:3, CSB) Mr. Kirby had to learn this the hard way. Luckily, he realized this before it was too late.
In our quest for knowledge and truth we have to learn what holds value in our lives. The physical objects we possess may provide us with happiness and joy. However, these good feelings have a very short shelf life because we cannot take any of this stuff with us.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God through the works of the flesh. It is important to think about our motives when it comes to good works. Our actions must be selfless, not selfish. It is those selfless acts that will help us to inherit God’s Kingdom.
I encourage you to read through the Gospels on Jesus’ discussions of the kingdom. He explains on what is necessary and what is not. It is up to us to decide what is valuable to us. Just ask yourself: is it something that we can take with us?