Life in God’s kingdom necessarily involves other people. It is not just between me and God, but among me, God, and everyone else too.
The faith talk taboo
At the dinner table, some topics are taboo. When a six-year-old succumbs to a fit of giggles over a bathroom reference, he may be hushed by an indignant grandma. Differences about politics have broken up more than one meal before the main course made it out of the kitchen. In many families, talk of religion or belief is off limits too, for fear of argument or accusation. When we care about others, we want to get along with them, enjoy their company and avoid hurting their feelings. For such good reasons we may keep our faith, doubt, practices, and struggles to ourselves. When we are the ones avoiding discomfort, rather than being concerned about others’, we can become overly protective of our faith. In that case, we may be unwilling to examine our beliefs and our practices, even in the hopes of becoming more faithful.
Faith is personal but not private
All of this self- and other-protection can lead to a very strange consequence: the belief that one’s faith is actually private. We may think that whatever relationship we have with God affects no one but us. We may even come to believe that life in (or out of) God’s kingdom is lived vertically, a matter between “me and the man upstairs.”
What we believe determines what we do. Unless we live utterly isolated lives, alone on an island or asteroid, what we do affects others. Thus what we believe affects others, and to think otherwise is to ignore the simple communal reality of existence. We are not alone. Neither is anyone else. We are relational creatures. We live in clusters of community. We are in fact dependent upon others, even if our dependence is limited to trusting them to leave us alone.
God lives in community and we do too
All that to say: life in God’s kingdom affects other people. Indeed, it cannot be lived without others. Even the Trinity lives in interdependent community; how could we expect to do otherwise?
Ultimately, every human circle is doomed to dissolution if it is not caught up in the life of the only genuinely self-sufficient circle of sufficiency, that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For that circle is the only one that is truly and totally self-sufficient.
– Dallas Willard
This post is part of the God Ideas Series.