This Week on Sleepy Hollow: Loneliness, the Local Church, & Beheadings Galore

This Week on Sleepy Hollow: Loneliness, the Local Church, & Beheadings Galore November 13, 2013

Review of Sleepy Hollow, Episode 7 

In case you were wondering, being a Mason won’t protect you through the Apocalypse. You’ll get your head chopped off just like the next person. And so will everyone else who stands between the Headless Horseman and his skull, which he needs for some reason in order to bring the other three horsemen and begin the end of the world. Will Abbie and Ichabod be able to stop the Horseman on his decapitory ride through town? Will they come up with a plan to keep the Horseman permanently separated from his noggin? Will Paul Revere provide posthumous assistance in their quest? And will the ever-awesome Orlando Jones finally get the proof he needs that something weird is up in Sleepy Hollow?

This week was a bit… actiony. Which was great, don’t get me wrong! Give me a shoot-’em-up over deep, meaningful conversation any time of the week. But an hour-long gunfight with Death makes for poor theological reflection. And heaven help us if here at Schaeffer’s Ghost we write anything less than theological reflection so deep it requires hip waders on the part of the reader. Fortunately, there was one (nearly throwaway) moment that provides very useful fodder for reflection. Disaster averted! 

Both Abbie and Ichabod get a brief down moment to reflect on how functionally everyone they know is either dead or must be pushed away for their own protection (or would shun them for being crazeballs). Ichabod’s friends and family of course died two centuries earlier (and even his fraternal Masonic brothers have gone the way of the French Royalty). Abbie has lost her share of friends too, and finds herself repeatedly having to reject opportunities to forge new personal relationships. Most of the remaining potential friends are simply unable (or unwilling) to understand what has become the defining aspect of Ichabod and Abbie’s lives—they cannot have a meaningful conversation about anything that really matters, because others do not share the same beliefs about the true state of the world and what really matters. The burden of being the “two witnesses” weighs heavily on the ol’ social life.

The idea that being a bearer of the truth is a lonely and solitary existence is nothing new for Christians. Leaving aside the early church practice of hermeticism (with all its problematic implications), Christian thinkers from Kierkegaard to Don Whitney have written on the implications of solitude (on the positive side) and loneliness (on the negative side) for the spiritual life. Solitude can of course have its benefits—we should all take time regularly to withdraw and reflect on Scripture. Yet, being a Christian can also twist the positive experience of solitude into a wrenching loneliness. We understand the desperate situation the world is in, the devastating effects of sin, and the only hope for salvation offered through faith in the atoning work of Christ; but no one will listen. Kierkegaard reputedly (though I’ve never seen the quote myself) lamented that he was the only Christian in Denmark, and Francis of Assisi withdrew in disgust and preached to the birds when the people wouldn’t listen.

Sleepy Hollow provides a brief glimpse of a legitimate response to the feeling of isolation that comes from holding a truth no one wants to hear. For all their sense of being cut off from the world, Ichabod and Abbie still have the truth and they still have each other—and, as others slowly come to know and believe the truth, their circle expands further (and then shrinks again when the Horseman comes a-callin’). In the same way, as Christians we have the truth that the God who made the universe, who judges all sin, and who maintains all of creation under His providence, has forgiven us in Christ. We have this truth: that we can look forward to an eternity of fellowship and community in heaven, however much we may be isolated now. There are many truths that carry no inherent comfort (sure, you might have the solution to all our nation’s financial woes, but what does it matter if no one is listening? And a hundred years from now, what difference will it make?). Christian truth is not like that. It brings with it joy and peace because it is based on the full and faithful promise of God.

If that’s not enough (and it certainly should be), we also have the church. I have wondered sometimes if complaints of loneliness from Christians aren’t caused as much by problems with the church as by a lack of response from the world. The church should be a community of the forgiven, gathered together to remind themselves of forgiveness in the Gospel through preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. We as Christians should have a ready-made body of people to fellowship with—people who know our struggle and share our belief in the truth. Yet often this does not happen, either because we sinfully withdraw into seclusion, or because the church fails to properly display the Gospel:  by failure to display Biblical love to our brothers and sisters, failure to build one another up in the Word, failure to lead well, failure to provide accountability, or even failure to clearly define those Christians to whom we are committed through membership in a local church body. . (For more on the latter, I strongly encourage you to spend some time surfing the 9Marks website—it’s an organization explicitly dedicated to dealing with some of the major problems of the contemporary church.)

Whatever the cause, we should always remember that as Christians we are never truly alone. In His own presence and in the precious gift of the Church, His Body, God has provided sufficiently for our relational needs and has fully equipped us to handle the responsibilities of bearing the truth in a sin-deaf world.

Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO., where he lives in splendid isolation with his wife. 

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