Community and Individualism

Belief systems are a complicated entity. None are really "easy", save perhaps the tongue-in-cheek FSM, to understand and to interpret on an individual vs. corporate or community level.

While I can't speak with any authority on the specifics of other beliefs, I can comment on my own. There has recently been a study started by some dear friends of mine, and in hopes to prevent me from falling behind I've been informed of some of the content they covered so that I can try and still contribute in the meantime.

For some of the more personal struggles and testimony, I'll save that for when we can meet in person. I can however talk about the verses they covered, and what my take is on them and how I am being led.

The verses are as follows:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Hebrews 10:24-25

Matthew 5:14-16

Taking one at a time, lets first delve into 2 Corinthians. The verses state:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.

God of all comfort. For me this verse highlights something which is not often seen in the discussions about God. Often being called vengeful, jealous, loving, supporting...but to state as a God of all comfort?

To provide some quick context, in this era when the letters were written to the church in Corinth, it was not uncommon in other cultures to have gods assigned to specific tasks. There were gods for water, lamp oil, storms, intelligence, and even debauchery and drunkenness.

That said, for the Judeo-Christian God to be called the God of all comfort would have been rather odd in that era, especially to Jews who were familiar with the see-saw relationship between them and God as recorded in the old testament, where failures led to events such as conquering forces invading and taking the Jews as slaves, only to return generations later to try the whole relationship again. This was revolutionary stuff to be saying, and what we can conclude from these verses is even more revolutionary.

In my life, I've often stated that there are some folks that I haven't been able to connect to, and I have sloughed the blame in believing that my path is intended to allow me to speak into others lives who are struggling with the same problems. What this verse seems to say to me though is that that mentality is cutting short the power of God in my own life, and I should be able to love and comfort folks in any situation...not just ones I am familiar with.

Lastly, I see something interesting in that both the suffering and the comforting are for our "consolation and salvation". I believe that this is not necessarily referring to the state of being saved or not, but in reference similar to what is seen in Philippians 2:12-13 :

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

In the same manner, this isn't talking about being saved or not, but talking about how that salvation impacts your life. Swap the word "salvation" for "bicep" for instance, and you can see how the implication is more a strengthening of something already there than working to manifest something which isn't there already.

What this then says to me is that both the acts of suffering and comforting should be viewed as ways to grow the application of our beliefs in a practical manner. To take those beliefs from our heads to our hearts, and then work them to our hands while we reach out to those around us.

For Hebrews:

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

It is very easy to be a cynic, especially when your worldview is "them vs. me". While our salvation and relationship in our beliefs are very personal, if we don't "check in" with the rest of humanity now and again, we can become tunnel visioned on ideas in our own head.

Many times it is said that it is best to write things down or say them out loud, that working out how you actually feel is a part of processing...how you feel in the first place at all. We so often want to be the one who has it all figured out, yet the irony is that without input from other folks we can't ensure any sort of quality of our internal thoughts.

This can be taken to an extreme where we become completely dependent on that interaction for validation, or the other extreme where we shun it completely. Even if balanced in a healthy manner, if who we are getting feedback from doesn't have our best interests in mind, then we're also in a tough situation.

By seeking fellowship with other believers of the same mindset and foundation, we can help use each other to bounce ideas and struggles, and see what others take on an issue is, or perhaps how they've dealt with it in the past. Either way, by coming together as a group we can support each other in each of our needs.

In Matthew:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

What stands out most to me here echoes what most people have experienced one time or another - when you are part of something that is truly God-touched, it shows and people want to be a part of it. We don't want to hide that experience, but at the same time we have to remember that the light isn't coming from us.

It's in this manner we must always be giving glory to God, and not to our own ability to have brought people together and had something amazing. It can be very easy to pat oneself on the back and try to take credit - but in the end what we need is humility.

Add to that that light is pure - unfiltered or partially covered. In this manner, we must also then be open to that light reaching in to every part of our lives, including the dark corners where we like to keep our sins and secrets. For our community, we then must not pretend that we do not have our own dark corners, and show respect and empathy regardless of the nature of the issues our fellow brothers and sisters are struggling with.

We've each got our own paths to follow - yet we should never be walking it alone. A great paradox of sorts, where we end up walking both our own and others' paths to help support them, while they in turn walk their path and support us in our own. It is through this, though, that we can all grow stronger and live a more fulfilling life touched by God.

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