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Common Good

Law; an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community.

Thomas Aquinas

The Common Good

The phrase, the common good, was another casualty of the pandemic.

In its origin, the idea of the common good is a valid public objective.  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

The common good belongs to a family of concepts that relate to goodness rather than rightness (Sidgwick 1874).  What makes the common good different from other concepts in this family is that it is a notion of the good that is understood to be internal to the requirements of a social relationship.  In any community, the common good consists of the facilities and interests that members have a special obligation to care about in virtue of the fact that they stand in a certain relationship with one another.

All civilized societies have a concept of common good.  Recently, Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel, offered this definition of “common good” in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

“The common good is about how we live together in community.  It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another.  It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.”

Problem with the Common Good

Here is where our dilemma begins.  This statement by Michael Sandel has no less than eight points of conflict where individual readers will have their own interpretations and thus arrive at a different meaning of common good.

For example, “ethical ideas” will have a different meaning depending on your moral assumptions and political persuasions.

For several years now, America has been subject to a dizzying array of extraordinary economic and public health measures—including proposals for vaccine passports and mandatory inoculations—intended to deal with the economic and public health challenges posed by COVID-19.  And all these measures have been accompanied by some sort of appeal to the “common good.”

How do we resolve the conflicts in all wanting to perform what is necessary for the common good, but we cannot determine what the common good is?

The Bible

God intends that we live and work for the common good.

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 have welfare.  (Jeremiah 29:7)

During one of the most tumultuous periods in Ancient Near East history, the prophet Jeremiah sent this message to the leaders of Judah, who were then exiled in Babylon.

Make the best of your lives, he counseled.  Build homes, plant gardens, have children, and, above all, work for the city’s welfare where you are forced to live – for if it does well, you will do well.

Great advice.

Jeremiah’s message may have sounded just as strange to the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century before Christ, as it does to Christians living in the United States today—your success depends on the success of the community in which you live.

In a nation so politically divided and so unable to come together around common goals, it seems difficult to imagine that our individual success is tied to the advancement of the larger community.  So are we not better off looking out for our own interests?

The Bible tells us that our success depends on the community’s success in which we live.

Yet Jeremiah’s message may be the right one for us to consider as we navigate our own difficult times.

We do not live in exile, but we are struggling through a difficult time.  We have the remnants of the covid pandemic, and we are experiencing enormous social unrest—inflation, critical race theory, and a more profound political divide than ever.

Jeremiah reminds us that our wellbeing as individuals, couples, or families and our ability to resolve any problem depends on the wellbeing of our community, state, and nation.

This process to address the wellbeing of our community is our term today common good.

To biblically address the common good, we must remember three principles.

  1. Common good applies to everyone, no segment of our population should be excluded.
  2. We must give particular attention to the poor and vulnerable people because “the city” can only be as healthy and strong as its weakest members.
  3. We are all made in the image of God and equal in his sight.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of recognizing and addressing the common good.  The Bible is the correct means to address today’s problems, and by addressing the common good, everyone will be better off.