We were created by God to be in community with God and with others. In the Garden of Eden, God says, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). God himself is said to have been in community with mankind in the Garden of Eden as He would walk with Adam in the cool of the morning (Gen. 3:8). God himself is a communal God, which is part of what we are describing as we understand Him as Trinity, one God and three persons, an eternal and perfect community. Part of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21).
It is undeniable that we were created to be in community. In fact, studies have been done on the practice of solitary confinement in the American prison system which have found it to be psychologically detrimental to inmates, with other historical studies showing that extended times of isolation causes changes in our ability to perceive reality, increases anxiety, and can result in hallucinations, and any other number of psychological maladies.
Living in community is challenging, though, because the moment we get two people together we have generated the potential for conflict, for competition, or distrust, and for power struggles. This is part of why the message of the Gospel is so important for our society, for through the Gospel and through the example of Christ, we learn that our motivation within society is to be selfless, charitable, and is to further the standards of compassion and love. We should see life in community as an opportunity to build up each other and to use the various gifts God has given for the advancement of other rather than the promotion of self. Through this kind of approach to community life, which was exemplified by Jesus himself throughout His own life, we can begin to unravel and correct the errors of competition, pride, and power struggle.
Rowan Williams, in his book Tokens of Trust, describes this well:
A well-functioning Christian community is going to be one in which everyone is working steadily to release the gifts of others: the Christian community is not a place where everyone is crying out, 'Get out of my way so that I can exercise my gift' (though the phenomenon is not unknown...). In the context of the 'Body', the gift of each is inseparable from the need of each. The giver has to understand both how the gift is to be given into the common life, and has to be aware of what the common life and the obstinate reality of others must give for one's own life to be real and solid. . .
C. S. Lewis once famously described a 'charitable' person in these terms: 'she lived for others; you could tell the others by their hunted look.' We can think about our gifts as though they licensed us to impose what we had to give; we can think about our gifts as though we had nothing to receive; and we can think about our needs in dependent and immature ways. But the solid reality of the really functioning Christian community is like that of a good marriage, in which mutual attention, giving and receiving, enjoyment and sacrifice are tightly woven together, as both realize that there is nothing good for one that is not good for both, nothing bad for one that is not bad for both, that fullness of life is necessarily a collaborative thing.
Think of this for a moment, "fullness of life is necessarily a collaborative thing." Is this not what God meant when He said Adam should not be alone, or what Christ meant when He prayed for communal unity amongst His followers, and is this not what is understood when we consider God himself to be the perfect community of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? True success and fulfillment of life comes when we live out our identity as those who were created in the image and likeness of God, and that by its very nature is a collaborative and community-oriented perspective. There is no honor in striking it out alone; we need each other and we need to be the builders of community in our broader society. There are far too many people that live their lives as islands of isolation in a sea of souls. Let us be the bridge that helps them find the fullness of life that comes through giving of ourselves for the sake of others.
(as published in St Luke’s weekly newsletter, 11/7/18)