(Part 3 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
If we are honest, most people have had a bad experience with church. While some might have been burnt by Christians in some capacity and don’t want to be a part of it (which is understandable), others might fall into the category of Christians, according to Bonhoeffer, “who cannot endure being alone.”
Community and Solitude
Let me unpack the connection between community and solitude. For a lack of a better name, those “who cannot be left alone” group have a problem. They need to have others meet their needs. Even though these individuals require others to meet their needs, they are often disappointed when other do not (stay with me!). The reason for this is because they cannot be alone. Sit with that thought for a moment.
This group is looking for a “spiritual sanatorium” in church when they really need an encounter with God alone. They’re looking for others to solve their problems when they really need God to root it out. Sounds intense, doesn’t it? Bonhoeffer, quit meddling!!
The Furnace of Personal Transformation
Being alone is something we all must face. Alone we stood before God called, alone we had to answer his call, alone we must pray, and alone we will slip into death and give an account to God. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community,” as Bonhoeffer wrote.
Before you despair, listen to this good news! “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Into community we were called, and in this community of the called you (and I!) will struggle and pray. In death, life, and on the Last Day both of us will be a “member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.” As Luther would encourage us, “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me.”
Thus the tension: in fellowship we learn to be “rightly alone” and only in “aloneness do we learn to live rightly in fellowship.” Silence and speech are both marks of solitude and community, respectively. Silence does not have to be frightening. It is the stillness of the individual under God’s Word. Silence is knowing deeply that we are waiting for God’s Word and coming from that same word with a blessing.
Henri Nouwen would call this the furnace of personal transformation, since we would be alone before God. It forges the individual not only in right hearing, but right speaking as well.
Being alone offers the opportunity to intercede for others. Intercession is a lynchpin for Christian fellowship, the fellowship lives and exists by the intercession for one another, or else it collapses inward.
You might be asking yourself what about those really annoying people. Even for those who might repel us, bringing him or her to God’s presence will shift our focus and the reality that they are a poor human in need of grace will come into clearer focus. The repelling nature will fall away and we will see that person in their need.
Setting aside time to be alone will transform us. It is through those times that we will receive strength and blessing. The blessing of aloneness will then lead into blessing of fellowship. The strength of fellowship and strength of aloneness is done solely through the strength of God’s Word. As you can see, both being alone and together are so essential to life in the community of faith.
Now that we’ve walked through the intensity of being alone, now we get to the good stuff next time. Until then!
Have you tried a time of solitude?