While visiting family in Alaska this past summer, I asked our cousins about the best places to go hiking.
Then I asked my most important question: "What about the bears?" I asked.
"Attacks usually happen when people go by themselves," she responded. "That's what happened to a woman last week. She was running alone and got caught between a cub and a momma bear."
"We don't need to go hiking while we're here...." I said.
"We are safer if we all go together," she said.
Doing Life Alone vs. In Community
We once were a society that centered around family. Multiple generations often lived together under one roof and when families did live separately, they never moved very far. These days, we are more of an individualistic culture. We rely on ourselves. We live far away from where we were raised. Our connections with other people take place most often in the workplace. But those connections are usually shallow, fickle, and short lived.
In the church, we see this sense of individualism and disconnectedness as well. Many people serially date churches, never staying in one place very long. Some may stake a claim on a church but remain distant and on the margins, attending only when something better isn't going on. And then there are those who may indeed have a committed relationship with a church but they are not all in. They aren't fully known by their community. They don't rely on the Body when they are struggling or in need. Instead, they wear masks that cover the pain of their lives, pretending that everything's okay, even though it's not.
Yet individualism and doing life on our own is not part of God's design. After all, God is a community in himself. Existing for all of eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have enjoyed the love and fellowship of their perfect triune community. In creating mankind, God desired for us to participate in that community and know the perfect and joyous love the Godhead share.
But God didn't stop there. He didn't create man to be in community with him alone. After he created the world and Adam, God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18). God created man and woman to be in community together, to create families and live together, bearing the image of and reflecting the three-in-one God.
Scripture is all about community. God chose the Israelites to be his people. "And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:12). They lived and worshipped him together in community. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God then instituted the church, the Body of Christ as a community of believers. "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Here's what Paul Tripp says in his book, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, "We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us." (p. 147)
Not only were we created to be in community but we also need community. As I learned hiking in the Alaskan mountains, there is safety in numbers. Though there aren't bears out there in everyday life, there are wolves who seek to destroy us. False theology abounds at every turn. Satan and his legions try to distract us with temptations. Our own sin leads us astray. We need godly brothers and sisters to watch our back. We need to be connected in community where we can all be on alert together for the dangers that are all around us.
The truth is, we need each other. We need to trust, rely on, and depend upon other believers. God gave us each other to walk alongside, encourage, and spur one another one in the faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." We are to carry each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2), care for each other's practical needs (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:16), warn each other of sin (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and rejoice and mourn with each other (Romans 12:15).
Despite my concern about the bears, we did end up going hiking and I enjoyed every moment of it. Though we saw evidence of bear activity on the trail, we never saw a single one. As our cousin said, we were safer together. And we are safer together in the community of the Body of Christ as well. Though society might tell us that we can do life on our own, God's word tells us that we simply can't function without each other (1 Corinthians 12). We need each other and we need community.
For Reflection: Do you know what it means to be in community, where you are safer together? What do you think keeps people from engaging in real community?