Community in a Broken World
Beyond our basic need for community, we have a critical need to belong to a spiritual community, to become part of a group of people who are committed to living out their faith together. Gilbert Bilezikian, New Testament theologian, points out that our need for community stems from the fact that God himself is a community. As some have said, the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Spirit is the Love between them. No wonder God creates not just individuals but community.
But we are not living in God's perfect world. Sin has fractured it, breaking our relationship with God, with others, and even with ourselves. Bilezikian points out that the cross of Christ is the only thing capable of restoring the kind of community God intends for us:
The very shape of the cross suggests the two main transactions that were effected through it. The upright post stands for the restoration of our community with God. But the vertical trunk itself does not make a cross; it also requires a crossbar. The arms of Jesus were stretched on that horizontal beam, and his servant hands nailed to it. His extended arms reach out from the crossbar to all who want reconciliation with God in order that we may also re reconciled to one another, forming one body in his embrace of love.
Perfect community is to be found at the intersection of the two segments of the cross, where those who are reconciled with God are reconciled together--where we love God with all we have and we love our neighbor as ourselves.1
Take out the cross beam and the cross collapses.
So we were made for belonging--belonging to God and belonging to others who have, like us, discovered the saving power of the cross. By his death and resurrection, Jesus restores shalom, overcoming the power of sin to rob us of all that God intends to give us. Author Kelly Kapec points out that the Heidelberg Catechism poses a question we all need to ask ourselves: What is your only comfort in life and in death? The answer? That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
But as Kapec points out, those of us in the affluent West may find the notion of belonging to God a bit insulting. We dislike the thought of being anyone's slave or anyone's servant. When life is challenging, it's nice to think that we are standing next to a big, big God. But what about the times when God demands something of us, when he asks us to make our surrender real through our obedience?
Many of us define ourselves by what we possess--a great job, a trophy wife (or husband), a big house, successful children. These things tell us who we are--or so we think. But Kapec points out that, ‘Our sense of self can become so wrapped up with the idea of self-ownership that the thought of belonging to somebody else--including God--looks like a threat and not a hope. Fearing to give, we grasp ever more tightly...and cling to the impression that we own our bodies, our money, our ideas, our time, our property, and everything else we can manage to slap our name tag on.”2
Giving ourselves away, forsaking our right to self-determination, can feel terrifying. But it would be tragic to let that fear rule our destiny, keeping us from experiencing the deepest kind of happiness there is. For only union with God can satisfy the hunger he has placed within us. As Psalm 100:3 proclaims, "Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his." And as Paul says, "whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Romans 14:8). To belong to Christ and to his people brings a sense of belonging, a sureness that we who were once lost have at last been found. We find peace because we are no longer orphans. We belong to God's family even though his family on earth still has many problems.
- Quoted in John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson, and Judson Poling, Groups: The Life-Giving Power of Community (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 200), 11-12.
- Kelly Kapec, God So Loved, He Gave (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 16.