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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The 'Shadow Side' of Relationships & Community (Part II)

Last week's rant was about 'The Shadow Side' of Relationships & Community from the perspective of the prophet Jeremiah. I then blog-committed (stronger than a Facebook Commitment but slightly weaker than a gym membership commitment) to address the following two questions:
(a) Why it is that we can feel lonely with people surrounding us ? (b) How we might consider striking a healthy & God-honoring balance between an unyielding trust in God & learning to trust our brothers & sisters in Christ? Soooooo...let's do this like we ain't new to this:

Why is it that we can feel lonely with people surrounding us?
The Christian answer you often hear to this is: "God has put a 'God-shaped' hole in your heart that no one but Him can fill." Biblically-speaking, there is actually a good deal of truth to this answer (but sadly diagrams of God-shaped holes are still impossible to draw). God has put something in each person that allows him/her to connect with Him relationally -- a spirit (Hebrew: ruach; Greek: pneuma...or as Rob Bell has learned to spell it 'Nooma'). We find this word, which is sometimes used interchangeably with 'soul,' in I Corinthians 2 as Paul is speaking of having one's eyes opened to the mystery of the gospel:

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. - II Corinthians 2: 10-11

One of the implications one can draw from these verses is that God uses His Spirit to reveal His thoughts to our (lower-case) spirit. Paul also says in Romans 8:10, "If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness."

Our spirits then are a relational property by which we have the capacity to 'connect' with God. I recently described this to a friend as being like an electrical outlet -- the spirit laying dormant until God plugs in the cord of His Holy Spirit. So when God commands in Malachi to "Guard your spirit," (see Malachi 2: 15,16), he's saying to guard your relationship with Him (or guard your capacity to relate with Him).

Isn't this cool? There is a theological reason, a biblical concept both for understanding the "God-shaped hole" idea and, more importantly, for why you can be connected to all other sorts of people but relationally you still feel unconnected -- because your 'spirit' has not been connected to the only Source that can spark & revive it.

If you believed that surrounding yourself with people would prevent loneliness, then you're essentially a monist (not to be confused with someone who studies Mona from "Who's the Boss?"...anyone get that reference? Anyone...?). Monism is the belief that a human being is essentially only one element -- body. That the body consists of all that a person is. So. according to this view, biblical terms like 'soul' and 'spirit' are just other expressions for 'the person' or for the person's 'life.' If you're a monist and you believe human beings to be relational, then there would be no reason why we should, in the long run, experience any relational dissatisfaction. Bodies relate to bodies...unless, as I'm suggesting, there lies within each of us something other than just flesh & blood.


How we might consider striking a God-honoring balance between an unyielding trust in God and learning to trust our brothers & sisters in Christ?

The answer lies, as it often does, in one's motive. I'm going to assume we all agree that trust is forged through building and working on one's relationship. So why ought we get away and work on our relationship with God? And why ought we, at other times, stay put and work on our relationships with people?

The famous mid-20th century professor & theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who essentially was martyred for his faith) puts this better than anyone in his little book Life Together, which he wrote to describe his convictions regarding nature of the local church:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had answer to that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.
Let
L
you.
Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear the cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.

How does this relate to motive? When you enter into community, are you finding your sense of 'rightness', your worth, your 'justification' in their acceptance or in God's ? Do you find yourself forgetting Christ, his teachings & your responsibility before him when you are in the joy/euphoria of relationships. Are you looking to bring Christ & your relationship with him to bear as a blessing? Put succinctly: When entering community, are you looking to satisfy or build up self through others or longing for others to be satisfied in Christ as you build Him up?

When you enter into solitude, are you doing so not only for yourself but for your brother & sister in Christ? To pray for his/her needs? Do you get away in order to come back refreshed and ready to serve not only your friend but 'the least of these', your enemies, and the guy at church who rubs you the wrong way?


We can strike a God-honoring balance in trusting both God & our fellow brother & sister in Christ by making sure we take community to our time with God and be sure to take God to our time in community.

Of course, only by His grace!

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