Finding the Good Life through Character Formation that Confronts the Cultural Idol of Speed

In the mid-1800s, Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, lamented the quickening pace of life as represented in the rise of the steam engine. Thoreau described these steam engines as moving “like a comet.”[1] Yet their top-speed was a whopping 40 MPH, which may seem humorous to us today.

Today, it is not the steam engine, but the smart phone and one-click buying with same-day delivery that defines our comet-like pace of life. Yet for all this increased expectation and experience of speed, we have not become better people, as the news and our own internal sense of dissonance testifies. And this is because speed is in direct conflict with character formation.

When we think about the end of life, people often live with regrets because we have not become who we hoped to be. Our lives don’t look like what we hoped they would because many times we did not give the sustained, focused time necessary to become those sorts of people. Instead, we were carried in the frenetic rush to a very different end.  We don’t have the characteristics, or virtues, that reflect the good and meaningful life. We have traded goodness for quickness and meaning for impulses.

In the extended “exhortation” known as Hebrews, the writer encourages his readers to live well in light of the future by upholding certain characteristics or virtues, and not to fall away from pursuing the good life. In the Christian tradition, living well is characterized by a trinity of virtues, called theological virtues, that we see referenced many times throughout the New Testament: faith, hope, and love. And these virtues, these characteristics, can only be shaped into our lives by God as we walk with Him through the hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades of our lives amidst the Christian community known as the church.

In Hebrews 10:24-25, we have already heard the writer speak to the virtue of love:

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

God forms love within the Christian community as we regularly interact with each other and learn how to serve, upbuild, and call out the best in one another.

Shortly after this passage, the writer calls his readers to faith:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (11:1-2)

God forms faith within the Christian community as we regularly worship together and remind one another of the reality of God as evident in the world and in one another’s lives.

And as the writer continues in chapter 11, often referred to as the “hall of faith,” he commends the life of hope to his readers:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (11:13)

Hope grasps the future yet to be realized. And God forms hope within the Christian community as we walk together over the long haul of life with our eyes set on the eternal kingdom.

Many people end their lives with regret, but we do not have to be that way. By God’s power we can live a meaningful and abundant life through Christ. You see, it’s not just about living in light of that end but living well in light of that end. 

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library, 1937), 105.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s