I was recently listening to the OnBeing podcast, which is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. If you have never listened to it, I recommend looking it up on iTunes or whatever podcast program you use. The episode I was listening to was the unedited interview with Nadia Bolz Weber. I may post a few things inspired by that podcast, so if you want to follow along, you can watch and listen here. Yes, she has a faux-hawk. Yes, she has tattoos. Yes, she is a Lutheran minister. Yes, that almost makes no sense…and it’s awesome.
One of the things that came up in the interview was how essential and important community is to the Church. If anything has been both a great blessing and a cancerous curse on the evangelical church, it’s the concept of a “personal relationship with Christ.” It is an immense blessing because it encourages us to get to know Christ, study, read devotionals, pray and all the other spiritual disciplines that we are often encouraged to do. It is also a curse in the sense that it seems to have spawned the concept that everything in Scripture is written to the individual. All those words were written to me, myself and I. If I have a problem, then I can turn to Scripture to find some help. While not a completely bad way to understand Scripture…what is bad is when we take that idea and then assume we can be a part of the Church in a vacuum. No…I don’t mean in a Hoover or a Dyson. But alone, without anyone else or any other influences around you. Somehow, we think this is how God wants us to be. That, He will never let us feel alone. And we as Christian individuals with one arm firmly around Jesus in a sort of awkward side hug and the other firmly gripping our leather-bound, highlighted and footnoted study Bible, can surmount any obstacle. And this verse gets trotted out anytime things get tough:
“But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 (CEB)
We’ll read that verse, we’ll get to the part that says “He won’t allow you…” and think that means me! And, in a sense it does…but it includes everyone standing behind you thinking the same thing. That little “you” there is plural. If we were from one of the southern states, we might read it as “He won’t allow ya’ll to be tempted beyond all of ya’lls abilities.” It’s a plural/communal you, not an individual/personal you. In fact, most of the time you will read “you” in scripture…it’s plural. The Bible is a communal book, it’s books and letters were products of or written for communities. The idea of community is essential in the Bible because it almost always has a communal focus and push.
You may get more than you can bear. You will crumble, your towers will fall and your lamp will burn out. Alone we are frail, we will bend and break as the pressures of this world push and press us. But, God will never give US more than WE can bear. God knew this from the beginning. The book of Genesis says:
Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (CEB)
Typically this verse gets trotted out at weddings and in support of marriages. While, that is all well and good I think that it is also important to realize that God realizes it was not good for us to be alone. Not that we specifically needed a mate or a companion, but that being alone was bad. Being in community with another person or other people was the better way to be.
A “very good” way to be.
As a community we can resist the pressure together. We can repair our cracks, rebuild our towers and relight our lamps. Jesus was constantly repairing the brokenness in the world and bringing people back into community and relationships. When the religious and political authorities wanted to throw up walls, Jesus broke them down. Alone we can do very little, but together we can do much. Lifting each other up, healing each other and blessing each other is some of the greatest work the Church can do. God does want to have a personal relationship with you, but he also wants to put you into a restored and redemptive community where you can mature and flourish. So, next time you’re feeling like you need some spiritual encouragement, put down the Bible and pick up a phone. Remember that you are not alone.