A Necessary Tension: Bonhoeffer on Solitude and Community

As I continue to reflect on unity as we walk through our current series at Eastrook Church, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” here is a powerful quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together on the necessary tension between solitude and community:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. “The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone…I will not be with you then, nor you with me” (Luther).

But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me” (Luther).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954).

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