Bonhoeffer on Solitude from Life Together

Bonhoeffer continues to be my theologian. I’ve been reading both his Life together and his lecture on Christology. I’ll have more to say about the latter in due course. In the evenings while here in Cambridge I’ve been reading Life Together. In the chapter “The Day Alone”, Bonhoeffer provokes reflection about the importance of solitude for community. He also provides practical advice and caution. Here are a few statements I found to be particularly stimulating:

  • Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone (83).
  • Because consideration of the Scriptures, prayer, and intercession involve service that is our duty, and because the grace of God can be found in this service, we should train ourselves to set a regular time during the day for them, just as we do for every other service we perform. This is not “legalism”, but discipline and faithfulness . . . For the pastor, it is an indispensable duty on which the whole practice of ministry will depend. Who can really be faithful in the great things, if they have not learned to be faithful in the things of daily life? (91)
  • Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community (92)

Over the last five days, I’ve spent a good deal of my time alone. I’m reminded that solitude is both a gift and a test. It brings out the best and worst in me. It is where the devil comes to tempt us. I think for me one of the greatest temptations when in solitude is to feel entitled to idleness or fleshly desires because of the “work” I do for God. I am tempted, and more often than I’d like to admit succumb to the temptation, to indulge myself. I simply forget the Spirit of Jesus in those moments. I’m completely self-directed. There is a temptation then in solitude, at least in my experience, for moments of “God-forgetfulness”. These are dangerous moments.

Because I am a follower of Jesus, and because I am a pastor and teacher of God’s Word, and because I by faith affirm that my actions in secret can either bless or curse those with whom I’m in community I must engage the fight with the devil in times of solitude in the power of the Spirit for the sake of the community and the ministry of the Gospel.

  • Patrick

    He got the idea Paul presented that the Church Universal “belongs to each other”. I agree with his view, if I am unfaithful, in some way, it harms all believers. That idea was lost on me most my life .

    ” It is more blessed to give than to receive” . How could this be I wondered?

    Side note, in the spiritual darkness of Hitler’s Germany, there God placed Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth as shining lights and there were others lesser known.

  • Frederik Mulder

    Hi Joel,
    Great stuff. After being alone, you’re welcome to come and have a little community at Tyndale House. One of my friends here is bust with a PhD on Bonhoeffer. You probably know about the impact Adolf Schlatter had on Bonhoeffer?
    Frederik Mulder

  • James Clarke & Co

    Hi Joel,
    You should seriously consider the comment below about Tyndale House. It’s a fantasic and fairly unique place with an amazing library that we help stock! We’re an academic theology publisher, also based in Cambridge, and have just published a book on Bonhoeffer and social thought you might enjoy (http://goo.gl/0959j). If you’d be interested in reviewing it on here I’d be happy to send you a copy! Get in touch: sales@lutterworth.com
    Best wishes,
    Fiona


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