I picked up a book of sermons by Paul Tillich recently (at Half-Price Books, which is an awesome store), and have been reading through some of them. I certainly don’t agree with all of his theology, but he was a brilliant man and had some exceedingly complex and insightful ideas. The following is a response to the first sermon I read: Loneliness and Solitude – The Eternal Now, SCM Press 2002 ed. In the sermon Tillich differentiates being alone and being in solitude. He summarizes:
“And perhaps when we ask – what is the innermost nature of solitude? – we should answer: the presence of the eternal upon the crowded roads of the temporal. It is the experience of being alone but not lonely, in view of the eternal presence that shines through the face of the Christ, and that includes everybody and everything from which we are separated. In the poverty of solitude all riches are present. Let us dare to have solitude – to face the eternal, to find others, to see ourselves.” (10)
Indeed, I find agreement with Tillich in that men are creatures prone to loneliness and that we seek to assuage that feeling. Didn’t God create us that way? Didn’t he observe Himself: “It is not good for man to be alone.”?
We seek relief of this loneliness from other people, or gain some measure of it from nature, or are pacified by some work of beauty. All these things, however, are but temporary relief; none provide lasting or true relief from our alone-ness.
Why? The first and primary reason is because what we truly seek – what we desire and hunger for is not actually these things, but communion with our maker. It is only through a closeness with omnipotent glory and divine care that we are filled. We seek these things because in doing so a reflection falls upon us of that heavenly river of communion with God. With people, we see a reflection of the image of God (“…for we are God’s workmanship – created in His image…”). With nature, we hear the constant proclamation of the glories of Creator-God (“The heavens declare the glory of God…”). With works of beauty we see the reflected goodness of God (“Every good and perfect gift is from above…”).
We seek these things because what we truly long for, at the deepest level, is communion with our maker. Obviously, and rightly, the effects of these reflections do not last. They are merely reflections, as looking at the face of a lover in a muddy pond. The heart may quicken at the sight of the familiar, though distorted face, but it is far from enough, and would never be traded for an embrace.
Thus we see the value (and necessity!) of personal solitude with Christ! Oh, that we should long for it more and more — for moments spent in the depths of night or the light of early morning with Him, our savior, creator and God! I wish that it were my only desire, besides fulfilling the work that He has granted me. Why do we run after such many other things that do not fill? The world runs after frivolities in this way, and their withered hearts suffocate for a breath of the holy.
And, cruel and glorious truth, our reward for increased time in solitude with Him is this: more thirst! As long as we wait for the coming of the Lord on this side of heaven, we will not be satisfied. Even if we were to spend whole days, weeks, months (if possible) solely feasting on the presence of YHWH God, we must only thirst all the more.
Thus it will be all our lives; and THUS we understand the longing of the apostles and early disciples for the coming of Christ, may it be soon! For until that time – the moment when the blessed trumpets sound and our knees touch the sea of crystal at the foot of the heavenly throne, and the radiant glory of our God is so intense that it becomes breath, blood, soul, mind and mouth for eternity…until then we must thirst. Until then we will not find satisfaction, even in earthly close solitude with Christ.
Until we return to the one who made us…we must be alone.
Praise God. May we seek solitude with Him always.
Praise God. May His kingdom come SOON!