I recently had occasion to hear from a disaffected pastor who felt that my talk about “community” was an affectation, an unnecessary flirtation with a popular buzzword. That furnished me with an occasion to think a little more deeply (and theopoetically) about why community has become a pillar of my practical theology. Below you’ll find some of my ruminations; I hope they’re helpful to you.
One person is a rotten image of the Triune God.
In the beginning, God saw that everything He made was good, except for one thing: a solitary person. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the person: the “not-good-ness” was very specific: “It is not good that man should be alone.” God is three Persons; one person is not a good image.
The fix? God puts the man in a death-like sleep, tears him in two, and fashions woman — the crown and glory of man — from his very flesh. She is different from him, other than him, not-him. And yet, what does he say?
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”
He sees her, and knows her for what she is. She is his flesh — if you’ve seen her, you’ve seen him. And then, you haven’t; they are different.
“Show us the Father,” Philip says to Jesus, “And it is sufficient for us.”
“He who has seen me,” Jesus replies, “has seen the Father.” He later adds that He indwells the Father, and the Father indwells Him. In big theological polysyllables, we call this perichoresis. (That’s Greek for “dancing around,” by the way.) In another author’s terms, “In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” This extends to the Church, and that’s only natural: we are the Body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones, which is to say, His Bride. And while He has ascended, the Body remains here on earth, a tangible witness to the Father.
A solitary person, no friends, no family contact, is a lousy image of God. This is the image of the Trinity in the world: that we dwell in each other’s lives. A lot. In a husband and wife, this dancing around one another leads to nakedness and physical union, an intimacy so deep and glorious that it’s too dangerous to share with more than one person. Too much glory can kill you. On the other hand, that glory is also the ultimate picture of Christ and His church.
In other contexts, this dancing around leads to the shedding of masks and armor, so that we can see and love one another for who we are. A different sort of nakedness, to be sure, but it’s still quite threatening, and we’re still tempted to start stitching fig leaves together. Another person in my life is going to act like…well…not me. He’s going to be himself. In my life. He might not like me; he might not do things like me.
That’s all true, and it’s my job to give him the freedom to do that, as a gift. And to receive the same freedom from him, if he’s willing to offer it. That mutual gift becomes a dance that lets us both be ourselves, in harmony, richer than we could be separately. Sinners can’t do this naturally, but God never meant for us to be only natural; we were always meant to partake in the divine nature. The dance depicts the Trinity, and the dance requires the presence and guidance of the Trinity, or it will never work.
When it does work…wow. God has blessed me with this dance in a number of relationships, and I am rich beyond measure. I can’t begin to express my gratitude adequately, but the very least I can do is name some names: my Sunday morning thinktank partners, Jim and Michele; my youth ministry partners, Joe and Becca; my “huddle,” Dave, Jody, Brad and Joe (again); my church family at The Dwelling Place, whose names are too numerous to list, but y’all know who you are; and saving the best for last, my Lady Wife, Kimberly. I aspire to be the sort of blessing you have all been to me.
And you, gentle reader, wherever you may be: May God bless you with the same, and may you bless others with the same, that the world may know that the Father sent Jesus, and has loved us as He loved Jesus.