All By Myself
For the last few centuries, our modern civilization has highly prized autonomy. Beginning as a child, I am been conditioned to believe that I can do it all by myself. To need the help of someone else makes me a lesser person. The problem with this sort of self-assurance robs us of the privilege of needing the other. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, God equips us with strengths that we can use to bless others and shortcomings where others can bless us.
As individuals, we need one another. The Bible testifies that this goes right back to the beginning. In The Adam and Eve story, God says “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God’s creation wasn’t complete until there were people living in community with one another. But given our culture’s obsession with self-reliance, we can easily Christianize this belief and fall into the mistake of believing that, while I need to live in dependence of God, it would somehow lessen God if I also depended on others.
The Genesis creation story tells us that, not only do we need God, but that we need each other. God isn’t lessened by our need of the other, because he’s the one who provided the other in the first place.
Of course, maybe we’re not the kind of people who live to stand on our own two feet. We may live to interact with a community we find especially enjoyable. Maybe it’s your church, or a home group, or the people you work with. Some of us are fortunate to have such a group. The problem with such communities is that while we may be very attached to living in them, we’re often not very open to the idea of opening them up to new people.
This begs some serious and potentially uncomfortable questions. Does my interdependence spread beyond my own little group? Am I willing to place myself in a relationship with someone very different from myself? Do I limit myself to those relationships where I feel I get an immediate, tangible benefit? What do I do with people I find challenging?
We see these kinds of tensions in the Bible regarding the early church. Paul said that we’re all equally welcome in the Kingdom whether we’re rich or poor; slave or free; man or woman; Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:26-29). This created some uncomfortable situations. In the Corinthian Church, cliques within the church of rich people ate the Lords supper and excluded the poor (I Cor. 11: 17-34). The very act that was supposed to teach people about the unity of the body, instead incorporated the attitude of exclusion prominent outside the church. For similar reasons, James has to warn believers not to treat the rich with preferential treatment in the church (James 2:1-9). In both cases believers were happy to treat some with deference and others with distain. Both Paul and James call this out as wrong.
A Glorious Diversity
The church isn’t meant to be homogenous. It’s meant to reflect all the diversity of cultures, languages, socio-economic groups and ethnicities in the World. God calls all of his creatures together to sing a harmonious symphony of praise to his holiness and goodness. In a description of heaven, The book of Revelation recounts:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10).
The heavenly choir — the end product towards which the church is labouring — reflects all the difference found in humanity. The common factor that unites them is their praise and worship of God through Jesus. Everything else, it seems, is negotiable. If my church fails to accept believers because they’re not like me, it fails to appreciate God’s purpose and design for the church. Such a church has decided that God wants a choir singing in unison, when what God desires a symphony rich in complex but beautiful harmonies. In, the end, if we are to be the church that God calls us to be, then we need each other. This conviction, that God desires us to reach out and form a community that transcends the normal barriers within which we comfortably interact, drives nightlight to do what we do. The church cannot be the glimpse of God’s Kingdom it is called to be if it looks just like me. It’s only as we reach out to include the other — including the poor, the broken the lonely and the marginalized — that the world will catch a fleeting glimpse of the multitude from every tongue, tribe and nation.