What is the secret to human flourishing? Is it money, good circumstances, schooling? Can a person or community in poverty, persecution or suffering flourish?
Yes! The Bible, clearly and repeatedly reveals that a major factor or key to human flourishing, is character and it’s accompanying quality, virtue. Sadly, both character and virtue as concepts are largely absent in the modern and postmodern worlds.
One story in scripture that reveals the place of character and virtue is the account of Joseph in Egypt. Hated by his brothers, Joseph was thrown into a pit and left to die. He was “rescued” and sold to some slave traders who delivered him into slavery in Egypt. What could come from such dire circumstances but impoverishment and despair?
We pick the story up in Genesis 39:1-3.
Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
Joseph’s captivity in Egypt can be seen as a prequel to the Hebrew’s later captivity in Egypt, as well as the larger Jewish history of suffering and persecution. In all three—Joseph, the infant Hebrew nation, and the history of the Jews at large—show people in extreme circumstances rising like the proverbial Phoenix out of the ashes.
Joseph is a paradigm for the Jews
Jewish cultural critic, founder of Prager University and Bible commentator Dennis Prager writes of this chronic phenomenon of the Jewish people in his commentary, The Rational Bible: Genesis.
The story of Joseph is a paradigm of the Jewish experience. From being thrown into a pit and then being sold by traders into slavery in a foreign land, he met with considerable success before being wrongfully imprisoned, then released, and once again rose to success, this time on a grand scale. Jewish history follows the same pattern: Jews are persecuted; the moment they are emancipated, they achieve social and professional success; then they are subjugated again; and when given another chance, they rise again.
In such a narrative, what led to human flourishing? How is it that the Jewish people, probably more than any other, have suffered over the centuries—in the pogroms in Russia, genocide in Hitler’s Germany, the current waves of anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States—and yet consistently risen from the ashes? Prager says this phenomenon is rooted in a moral, monotheistic faith and the virtues it inculcates in their lives.
Like Joseph, the Jewish people have been remarkably successful in foreign societies. The primary reason has been the Jews’ values: strong and stable family life (nearly universal marriage and children); near-universal literacy, even among women; emphasis on the life of the mind; delayed gratification (for example, keeping one’s children in school as long as possible rather than sending them out to work); and an aversion to violence. These values ultimately derive from the Torah and later Judaism. There is no other way to explain the success and, more importantly, the influence of the Jews, one of the world’s smallest peoples.
How does order become chaos?
As we exchange the worship of God for that of created things, as we exchange truth for lies, societies move from order to chaos, from freedom to slavery, from flourishing to poverty. We are witnessing this today, peaceful nations descending into violence, flourishing cities receding into chaos and poverty. Why? Because the culture of atheism begets relativism, group think, materialism, power and anarchy.
Regarding the Jews’ influence, Winston Churchill wrote this in 1920: “We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization.”
Churchill’s statement is pragmatic; these virtues bring human flourishing. But beyond that, it is also true that God exists, that we live in a moral universe. We may celebrate this reality.
Drill down to the level of principle
If you want to understand what’s happening in our world, you need to move beyond what you see on the nightly news, what you hear in the endless arguments of the political class. You need to look deeper, to a level seldom talked about in public discourse. That is the level of principle, the principles of freedom vs. tyranny, of personal responsibility vs. personal abdication, of truth vs. power, order vs. anarchy, a culture of life vs. a culture of death. These conflicting principles are rooted in the deeper level of worldview. The contrast is between the worldview of theism – the existence of the personal infinite God and that of atheism – the denial of a moral, personal universe. These are rooted, respectively, in Judeo-Christian theism or evolutionary ideology. They develop as Western Civilization, on the one hand, or paganism, on the other.
Each of us has a conscious choice to make. Will be learn from the virtues of the Jews?
- Darrow Miller
 Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible: Genesis . Regnery Faith. Kindle Edition.