The pagan Philosopher Voltaire once quipped, “The happiest of all lives, is a busy solitude.” One may interpret the Philosophers words variably, but what I think he really meant was, we are better off busying ourselves in our own solitude than we are in the presence of frictious people. While we can all sympathize that it’s sometimes safer to keep away from ‘public’ threats in order to protect our own happiness; yet a spiritual soul can see that leans towards narcissism. So, I want to evaluate the good and bad of solitude. By solitude, I simply mean – the time we spend by ourselves, as opposed to time we spend with others (family, friends, and especially the Church).
I just heard on the news, that retail store hiring fell well below projections this last quarter, once again because online stores are exploding. The access to buying in your own privacy is trending. We have all benefited from this convenience. But my concern is that our society is becoming a-social (socially negligent), meaning our old dependence upon the public setting, the market place, butcher, the baker, the cobbler, the dry cleaners where normal physical human interaction took place, is being replaced with personal needs being met on a “virtual” cyberspace platform. So we are becoming conditioned a-socially. Electronic modernity is finding that its easier to avoid the annoying public and still get your goods and services. Our best social interaction (by popular sentiment now) is in the solitude of a smart-phone. Have you noticed that people even in large groups, are still glued to their ‘precious’ devices? With these devices we can control the world, engage in touching people without really touching them. I can talk about my day whether the outside world cares to hear me or not, I can get things off my chest, whether the world agrees with my slant or not. And yet, I am alone, in solitude, I am not in the physical presence of people made in God’s image. Hmmm!
So I wonder what the effect will be on the local church? On believers in Jesus Christ. Will she trend towards solitude? My concern is we’ll forfeit face to face interaction, that we will become socially weird, and socially sabotaged. That we will forget the importance social space and social presence, and miss the beautiful non-verbal cues of smiles, frowns and burdens that can only be perceived in a real presence. That we will not be used to fluid confrontation, that relationships will be screened with a “those in my twitter handle” bias. I wonder if we may trend to becoming afraid of people, of society, of risk, of honest constructive discourse. We are now in such the habit of structuring our lives and controlling everything electronically, that we may try to do the same thing socially, and it won’t work. I’ve even heard of “virtual churches” that pull saints from all across the world together, and they actually consent to church polity and a statement of faith. This too concerns me. The local church has always about believers adopting a new family and yet emphasizing “coming together” (Act 20:7), to celebrate, encourage one-another in the word of God, and to break-bread in Christ.
On a biblical level, we are encouraged towards solitude when we visit with God in prayer. (Matthew 6:6; Acts 10:9); but never as a habitual excuse to stop meeting with the body of Christ (Heb 10:24,25)
On the healthy side, the Apostle Paul said he always aimed to make sure his conscience was sound before God and men (Acts 24:16). A verse like this reminds us that a good conscience towards God makes us eager for fellowship with the family of God! In between those ends, are spiritually focused people that understand the proper balance between spending time alone with Christ, while desiring to do so in the company of other believers, being nurtured together in the Word of truth. So, there is a trending solitude that may spell doom for the church if we are not careful, and yet there is a classic solitude of prayer and study that moves the Christian to growth and a hunger for being with other believers.
Let us being encouraged the follow the latter. I think even Voltaire would be annoyed with the busy solitude of today. Believer, stay active in the local church!