Not long ago my family and I spent an afternoon walking around Parliament Hill here in Ottawa. It’s here that much of the negotiation surrounding public policy and the common good takes place. One of the reasons this is so challenging is that we don’t agree on what the point of life is. What is the good life? How can we begin to suggest that one life is lived well and another not? Are their goods beyond life? These are hard questions and fun questions and good questions to talk about over a pint or around a camp fire. Our ability to talk about these things and, even when we disagree, to affirm something resembling a shared vision for justice underwrites the peace of our pluralist society. My hunch, though, is that the differences that emerge around these questions aren’t limited to conversations that cross the boundaries of one faith to another. There are substantial differences in how members within a religious community respond. In fact, my guess is that it would take a more than a little prodding for most Christians to begin formulating a response to these fundamental questions. We’re more comfortable talking about specific wedge issues. Here’s a place to begin tackling the big questions–the conclusion of Gregory of Nyssa’s examination of the life of Moses:
Since the goal of the virtuous way of life was the very thing we have been seeking, and this goal has been found in what we have said, it is time for you, noble friend, to look to that example and, by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of the things spoken literally, to be known by God and to become [God’s] friend. This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life (137).
In case you missed it, for Gregory the goal of life is to become a friend of God. It’s worth noting that one feature of true friendship is that such friends do not enjoy one another for what the other can give but simply for who the other is.