Creating the Good Life

As image bearers of our Creator, we are called to create the good life, but the good life is not a self-indulgent, hedonistic foray into self-expressiveness and self-glory, but a brick-by-brick building of something amazing and wonderful in the created order around us. We are all called to this, each one of us. We are all creators. Together, in true shalom, we create for change. It’s not always easy though…

Home » Culture » Creating the Good Life

“We’re image bearers, created to rule, to partner with God in pushing and pulling the creation project forward, to work it, to draw out the earth’s potential and unleash it for human flourishing — to cooperate with God in building a civilization where his people can thrive in his presence. And in this cosmic agenda, each of us has a vocation, a calling from God, a way that God wired us, somebody to be and something to do — because the two merge in perfect symmetry.” – John Mark Comer, Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human

As image bearers of our Creator, we are called to create the good life, but the good life is not a self-indulgent, hedonistic foray into self-expressiveness and self-glory, but a brick-by-brick building of something amazing and wonderful in the created order around us. We are all called to this, each one of us. We are all creators. Together, in true shalom.

It’s not always easy though…

Faithfulness in Babylon

Sunlight streamed through the window, and he blinked his eyes rapidly, rising from knees bent in prayer, forgetting just for a moment where he was. The same as back home, yet so, so different. He took pleasure in retaining small daily routines like this, despite the sudden and dramatic change in surroundings. After all, he had paused three times daily, bowing to face his homeland and pray, for as long as he could remember, and he wasn’t about to stop now. The decision was not without cultural pressure though, strangely enough from two very different groups of people: those who hated him and those who claimed to love him.

It had been like this from the beginning.

The time he was taken. Held captive. Kidnapped.

Taken by international human traffickers, really. Maybe a little strange to put it like that, given how well he’d been treated upon arrival in his new home, how many relationships he’d built, and how far he’d risen, but nonetheless it was true.

When your choices are taken away, it always hurts.

Those who claimed to love him, his own people, those taken too, used this pain like the white hot, burning ember that it was, and fanned the flames of extremity: advocating for either separation or assimilation. He sympathized. He was no stranger to the pain. And those who hated him, those in positions of power in his new country, they didn’t make it any easier. Always trying to catch him in something, they demanded a blind fealty that he could only offer to his one true King.

But even in this new and foreign setting, he still kept the picture in his head of the dream his parents had painted from a young age. And their parents before them.

The story of the good life.

Everything well in the world. Right living. Right relationships. Total human flourishing.

Different people, young and old, resident and immigrant, all working together in a generous and abundant display of the one true King’s goodness and favor. So much happiness and joy and generosity it spilled out like a great sparkling waterfall, showering everyone indiscriminately with the overflow of the one true King’s gifts.

It would take time, but one day there would even be no more death. No more pain and suffering. No more abuses of power. No more big, strong men with weapons stealing screaming young children from their homes. Everything restored back to the way it was supposed to be.

The Good Life.


He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, savoring the moment. Everything he did was connected to building the shalom good life that his King wanted. The day would come, but it wasn’t here yet.

He opened his eyes.

Someone was pounding at the door.

The story, of course, is that of Daniel, taken from his homeland as a youth and thrust into the unfamiliar pagan culture of Babylon, all the while remaining faithful to his Creator and the call upon his life.

Creating the Good Life in Babylon

Navigating a right response to culture becomes more challenging the more we find ourselves immersed in a modern-day Babylon rather than Jerusalem. But even though we, as Americans, have been blessed to live in a land of religious freedom and, historically, a respect for Judeo-Christian values, this has not been the case for believers across the world and throughout history.

The dominant mode of cultural engagement for believers is Babylon, not Jerusalem. Dr Edgar Aponte, former VP of Mobilization at the International Missions Board under David Platt, and born in the Dominican Republic, contends that this is a uniquely American mindset, because though we as Americans have much to be thankful for, believers in many other countries have not been spoiled by being in a position of political power, and are forced to use persuasiveness and grassroots mobilization by absolute necessity. [1]

So, if Ecclesiastes teaches us that it’s not wise to long for the good old days, [2] then how should we act? The answer is found just a few books over: in the life of Daniel, and then in the book of Jeremiah.

Seek the Welfare of the City

First, it’s important to establish some context. One of the benefits to reading historical accounts in Scripture is that we can see how the story ends and make application via the Spirits illuminating power and a certain perceptiveness that only comes from 20/20 hindsight. However, one of the traps we can fall into is to lose the sense of time and place for the real people living and breathing and struggling and questioning in the middle of challenging circumstances.

It’s great to read Scripture as a narrative, as “preached history” that has application for us, but we should never lose sight of the feelings and experiences of the very real people trying to live a life of faith, and who do not have the benefit of knowing exactly how their individual story would end up. This is no truer than in the case of Israelites under Babylonian conquest, forcibly removed from their land, and forced to acclimate to a culture where, for the first time, they were a distinct and unusual minority.

Imagine yourself as a teenager. Stolen from your home. Kidnapped. Human trafficked to a strange country and strange culture: different people, different food, different entertainment, different government, and a different belief system.

How would you react?

If anyone would have a right to fight back and wage a “culture war” then it would seem to be these Israelite teens. Young, angry teenagers are captured from their homeland and forced to live under a rigid, totalitarian government that seeks to re-educate them and undo everything they’ve ever known. The plot lines for an action-packed man vs. system adventure almost write themselves.

Okay, yes, can you tell I write books in the young adult dystopian genre? And yet, from every account in Scripture we have of Daniel and his friends, they are not angry; they don’t wage war against their captors; they even attempt to work within the system while still standing up for what they believe in. It’s a story of reformation, not revolution.

The Israelite’s mandate in Jeremiah 29 is no different. In contrast to those false prophets who preached a cultural engagement strategy of either assimilation or separation, the word from the Lord through Jeremiah decreed creation, transformation, and multiplication.

In short, a cultural engagement philosophy of created for change, of building shalom.

“Build houses, and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” [3]

Get Your Culture Change Score

We are all called to create for change. How well are you changing the culture around you? Take this free assessment to get your Culture Change Score and find out.

Not Separation or Assimilation

This was hard news to hear for parties on “both sides of the aisle”, just like it is today. Those who longed for the good old days, and for a return to the way things have always been, are called away from their insistence on separation, and into a robust care for the city, its inhabitants, and for comprehensive flourishing (even those who were decidedly “secular”!) On the other hand, those who were simply slouching into assimilation with the city were called to represent the Lord faithfully in its midst and pray to the Lord, the Ultimate Creator, for its welfare.

Creating for Shalom

The word welfare has much cultural baggage in our American context, but the semantic range of meaning for the Hebrew word shalom, from which the ESV translates welfare, encompasses something much broader and more comprehensive. If you think of an overlapping Venn diagram of all the best parts of peace, welfare, and prosperity then that’s just beginning to scratch the surface of God’s intended shalom.

It’s a picture of total human flourishing, of right relationships between Creator and created beings, created beings with one another, and created beings with all of creation.

It’s an invitation into the way things were always supposed to be, even if in our present reality, it’s just a glimpse, a foretaste.

So, while welfare can have a negative “handout” type of connotation, shalom, on the other hand, is wonderful, intentional, total human flourishing. We should work and pray, seek and build, for the shalom of the city.

City Revitalizers Instead of Culture Warriors

In some ways, the key focus here is on revitalization of God’s initial pronouncement of good; it’s a hint of the ultimate restoration we are all looking forward to in the fourth and final chapter of the grand Biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. And, amazingly, God invites his people to play a part in this.

Rodney Stark, a sociologist of religion, commenting on the role of the early church, writes that “Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world … Christianity revitalized life in … cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments … To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective … services.” [4]

Instead of “culture warriors”, wouldn’t we rather be known as “city revitalizers”? The metaphors Jesus used to describe the church in her relationship with culture are vivid. Salt, light, a city set on a hill, a lamp in a dark room. And while these are all illustrations of distinction, contrast, and penetration, they are less about warfare, combat, and battle, and much more about energy, enthusiasm, and influence.

Robert Lewis calls this melding of the proclamation of God’s love with the visible, tangible demonstration of God’s love in the culture the way for the church of Jesus Christ to be “the church of irresistible influence.” [5]

And yet a call to culture war is a misplaced call with a misplaced goal. Lesslie Newbigin writes in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, “Those who call for a Christian assault on the worlds of politics and economics often make it clear … that the aim of the attack is to seize the levers of power and take control. We have seen many such successful revolutions, and we know that in most cases what has happened is simply that the oppressor and the oppressed have exchanged roles … The throne is unshaken, only there is a different person occupying it. How is the throne itself to be shaken? … Only by the power of the gospel itself, announced in word and embodied in deed … The victory of the Church over the demonic power which was embodied in the Roman imperial system was not won by seizing the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Colosseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor.” [6]

What We All Want

Peace. Health. Abundance. Total human flourishing. Meaningful work, rejuvenating rest, and a life stuffed to overflowing with fulfillment. Family, friends, and co-workers, all of creation; everyone in right relationship with each other and the world around them that contributes to making something better together than apart.

You matter.

What you do matters.

Sound too idealistic?

Too naïve?

Too utopian?

Apart from our Creator, yes. It sounds wildly unrealistic, even downright foolish.

But be honest: Does something in your heart also leap at this picture of the good life? Of what life could be?

It’s what we all want.

The good life.


How are you creating for change to create the good life?

Get Your Culture Change Score

We are all called to create for change. How well are you changing the culture around you? Take this free assessment to get your Culture Change Score and find out.

[1] Personal conversation with author

[2] Ecclesiastes 7:10

[3] Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV

[4] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York: Harper, 1997), p 161

[5] Robert Lewis, The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community (Zondervan, 2002), p 17

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989), p 209–210

Posted in ,

Joel Ohman

Joel Ohman is a serial tech entrepreneur, author, and the chief creator at Created for Change. You can connect with Joel at or via LinkedIn.