Summum Bonum’s Impact

By Barry Newton

While many might not be familiar with the term “summum bonum” [greatest good], nor regularly contemplate which values should rule others from the top of a hierarchical pyramid, the practical everyday impact of these principles explains the various currents shaping our diverse life stories.
Often we can effectively explain why someone’s life has followed a particular flow, when we understand several of core values which are embraced. To dabble our toes in this pool, consider the following scenarios.

Critical medical decisions are shaped by what is considered most important. Cascading ripples emanate from how someone answers, “Is the most important thing to preserve a family member’s life?” For a variety of reasons, including avoiding one’s own grief or perhaps a belief that death is the worst possible event, some may answer “Yes.”

Accordingly, they will incur consequences perhaps impacting their lives for decades to come. Conversely, others who believe Christ has made eternal life possible might respond “No,” thus experiencing those corresponding life-shaping repercussions.

Or reflect upon the waves which expand from one’s answer to the question, “What is most important about Sunday worship?” If a person’s response revolves around whether they feel they were inspired to worship and learn, then this value, if empowered creates an anthropologically driven worship tailored to human tastes and opinions. On the other hand, if someone’s reply centers foremost upon serving God’s desires, then the Bible will be scoured to discover God’s will for us in worshipping him.

Did Jesus ever reflect upon ideas related to the summum bonum? When Jesus taught that the most important command was to love God and the second was to love your neighbor as you love yourself, he revealed the first and second highest principles. These should shape the life of a disciple.

Jesus instructed that the proper way to live a godly life involves, foremost, pursuing a loving God, which incidentally entails obeying God. Here is the principle, which took the Messiah to the cross and will lead faithful disciples to die to their wills in order to live for him. Such a life will follow deep godly channels, not shallow self-piloted pragmatic or relative ones.

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