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Miroslav Volf


God, Justice, and Love

The grounds for human flourishing.

Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a magisterial book. In it and in its smaller forthcoming companion volume Justice and Love, Wolterstorff has gotten justice right. This, in case the thrust of my terse comment wasn't plain enough, is very high praise. I'll register a few small gripes and suggest a shift in emphasis. But these mild criticisms, even if I am correct in making them, don't take much away from the greatness of Wolterstorff's extraordinary achievement or from the basic correctness of his position.

Together with two of my colleagues at Yale Divinity School, David Kelsey (emeritus) and John Hare, I have started a multiyear project entitled "God and Human Flourishing." That project provides the angle from which I write. I will ask of Wolterstorff's books two principal questions: What is the account of human flourishing that they contain? And what is the relation between God and human flourishing thus understood? A conception of justice and the relationship between love and justice will turn out to be central in answering both of these questions.

Part of the foundation of Wolterstorff's proposal about justice—and about the relation between justice and love—is an account of human flourishing. He distinguishes his own account from two prevalent positions. A flourishing life is neither merely an "experientially satisfying life," as many contemporary Westerners think, nor is it simply a life "well-lived," as a majority of ancient Western philosophers have claimed. Instead, argues Wolterstorff, explicating the moral vision of the Christian Scriptures, human flourishing consists in "the life that is both lived well and goes well." The "life lived well" component brings out the agent dimension of human flourishing and of the moral order that underpins it; a well-lived life is one that a person leads well. The "life goes well" component brings out the recipient dimension of human flourishing and of the moral order that underpins it; the life ...

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