In Loving People, John Townsend criticizes those who religiously justify their disconnection from people. For Townsend, God created us for love. He wants us to love and to be loved within the context of a community. But many people assume that they don’t need others, since they have God, who can fill their every need. As far as Townsend is concerned, that doesn’t work, for the whole assumption is flawed.
I’ve heard Townsend’s community spiel before, only from other people. “God does not want you to be alone,” I heard one preacher say. “He wants you in a community.” And Tim Keller often emphasized the communal nature of Christianity.
My feelings on this are mixed, on both a personal and also a Scriptural level. Usually, I receive this spiel as a put-down, which makes me feel as if I’m displeasing to God because I have trouble fitting in, or social anxiety, or introversion, or anything else that hinders socialization. It’s like I should feel guilty about being alone. And such a message rests my spiritual assurance on whether or not other people accept me, which is not all that stable.
But there are some preachers and Christian teachers who say that loneliness is not something to fear. It gives us time to spend with God, who is always with us, whether others accept us or not. Christian radio personality Nancy DeMoss emphasizes the importance of relationships, but she also affirms the value of spending time alone with God. When we do so, we find our sufficiency in Christ. And because our security is in him, it’s not in the way that others treat us. As a result, we can be givers in relationships and not be hurt when others disappoint us.
When I lived in New York, I once called into Wayne Monbleau’s Christian radio program, “Let’s Talk About Jesus.” A lot of my rants to him are familiar to readers of James’ Thoughts and Musings: I’m a shy person, and I’m sick of Christians trying to make me something I’m not: a happy, happy extrovert. Even though he got a little impatient with me, Wayne offered some helpful feedback. He said that I don’t have to view being alone as a liability, since it can give me more time to spend with God. The desert fathers enjoyed their solitude, after all. Wayne also said that there are no cookie-cutter Christians, and that he himself is rather shy. But that doesn’t limit God. Wayne may be shy, but he speaks to audiences in large gatherings and on the radio. So he advised me not to place limits on how God can use me.
Scripturally, we can see both sides. On one hand, God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). But didn’t Adam have God? Wasn’t God sufficient to meet his every emotional need? It doesn’t seem so. Adam needed to be around someone like him.
On the other hand, there are people in the Bible who are alone, yet God comforts them. Jeremiah’s own family tried to kill him, prompting Jeremiah to almost leave his prophetic commission. But God reassured him with his divine presence.
In II Timothy 4:16-17, we read, “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (NRSV).
When Paul was alone, God gave him strength. But was Paul a loner? Not exactly. In Acts 28:15, we read, “The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.”
Paul actually felt encouraged when fellow believers came to spend time with him. Of course, Paul didn’t have to worry about not fitting in, since they were coming to him. But the point is that he enjoyed fellowship with God’s people.
Is God enough for me? Being loved by a being I cannot see and hear is not the same as being affirmed by a flesh-and-blood human being. I can’t pretend that it is. Others may believe that they can find all of their sufficiency in Christ, but I can’t.
At the same time, I can’t find all of my sufficiency in people either, since they can let me down, or perhaps not accept me. And so I try to make-do with my loneliness most of the time. And, although community is a big theme in Scripture, I must trust that God loves me, whether I fit into communities or not.
But that’s just my 2 cents!