Wednesday, April 23, 2008


For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV)

The cautionary tone of this passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus provides an overarching principle in how I view the world around me. When I understood and comprehended what Paul was writing about, my view of humanity and its many struggles changed forever. No longer did I view those who I interacted with as the enemy, but as fellow warriors, survivors, and comrades. My worldview has been shaped in significant ways since the Holy Spirit revealed the truth found within this verse. Through careful meditation and introspective thought, I arrived at the conclusion that what Paul was referring to was a way to view life, to view our fellow human beings, and, most important, their behavior.

This paper will explore and unpack Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians and how this single verse has provided me with the framework to build a solid worldview, one replete with the spiritual necessity to view human beings as creatures who are influenced by two eternities, one hell-bent on our destruction, the other deeply concerned with our eternal life. The paper is divided into two sections, the first discussing the nature of man and how it relates to my worldview, and the second which deals with God’s sovereignty, our freedom of choice, and the role and purpose of suffering.

In this first section, let’s look into what constitutes good and bad, and how these affect my human nature. I believe that the human body “is not,” as Dr. Jones states it, “intrinsically evil” (16). An illustration I use often is that of a handgun being considered evil or bad. A handgun resting on a table without ammunition inside is not evil. The person who picks it up, shoots another in cold-blooded murder has perpetrated an evil act. But again, the handgun is not the issue, but rather the condition of the heart of the shooter. I think Paul was warning his church members not to engage an enemy who is crafty, cunning, and does not care a lick about creatures created in God’s image, except to see them perish. The essential nature of human beings, then, is one in which these influencers are kept at bay, kept away by an outside, more powerful force, Who has sovereignty over all the entities involved. The first nine words of the verse point to a reality where all human behavior is understood and ultimately forgiven. Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same line of reasoning employed by Jesus when He taught on forgiveness. Our enemies are not each other, but rather an outside force, the enemy, who influences people to follow after him and have all they want. This wasn’t true in the Garden of Eden, and it’s not true now. Adam and Eve were given a choice by God, and they chose to relinquish their rights in the garden. The same is true for us now. We are given choices by God each and every day, choices that lead to our benefit and others that don’t.

As my worldview has evolved over the years since becoming born again, the verse from Ephesians quoted at the beginning of this paper remains the best describer of how I view and interpret the world around me. Time and time again, my interpretation of events, both personal and corporate, has used that verse as a filter through which Truth is gleaned. Without the Word of God, my worldview would be flawed, prone to the death and decay prevalent in the world today. Upon conversion, my view of the world changed, akin to the metamorphosis a worm experiences as it transforms into a butterfly. As my spiritual growth has progressed, my view of humanity has changed to align with God’s Word, as well as my view of time and space, the formation of the universe, and how I as a finite individual relates to my infinite God. Having experienced the bondage of being lost in my sin for many years and well into adulthood, memories of my “old man” persist. Paul’s writings on this subject in Romans and his epistles have facilitated a hunger within me to delve deeper into the reality of Truth found in the Bible and how to apply it in my daily life. Accepting life at face value is a tragedy I’m unwilling to engage in, one that would return me to my previous, dead state. Reading books that have enlightened me and provided more depth to life, books that have challenged my worldview, thereby strengthening it, have proven to be invaluable in my intentional personal growth. One of these books is The Universe Next Door, a comprehensive guide to several major worldviews, authored by James W. Sire. He poses seven basic questions that must be answered in a worldview in order for it to be considered as such. I will answer two of them in the next section according to my biblical world view, filtering them through Ephesians 6:12.

To get things started, the two questions are: what is a human being and what is the meaning of human history? Talk about two whoppers! My answer to the first question is contained in three spheres: body, mind, and spirit. All of these are entwined and inseparable, and each must have the other to exist. To qualify as a human being, all three must be accounted for and must be provable. How do we prove a human being has a spirit? The other two are quantifiable; however, the spirit remains hidden from view with no discernable proof of its existence. According to Paul’s letter, we are not warring with flesh and blood, but with spiritual beings. Comprehending these few words, then, leads me to conclude that I, too, possess a spirit being. Recalling the previous section, my body is not inherently evil and neither is my mind or spirit. Evil may suggest that I perform an evil act or think an evil thought. This is known as temptation, something I find deplorable, yet do not fully understand its purpose. That’s God’s business, I suppose. The three spheres that compose my humanness, then, are in a constant battle with evil spirits, which attempt to influence my behavior, my thoughts, and my heart. When this revelation became clear to me, dealing with difficult people and those who are not believers became less strenuous. They are simply under the influence of an eternal kingdom of darkness, stumbling around in the dark, groping for meaning in life. When God turns the light on through His Son, Jesus the Christ, the entire world comes into view. The Bible becomes a necessary part of life and is no longer foolishness, people are viewed in a different way, and life takes on meaning. This is what happened to me when I finally understood what it means to be a human being created in God’s image and for His purpose. The second question has led me to ponder, meditate, and harvest the deeper truths found in God’s Word in order to answer it in a way that conforms to my worldview.

The answer is simple, yet immeasurable. The purpose of human history is God’s purpose and only He knows its ultimate point. Not to simply state this in an attempt to skirt further discussion, I’ll support my answer with the following expose. Imagine for a moment that you are standing next to God Almighty, Creator of the universe, and you ask Him what is the purpose of human life and history. He is the only One who can definitively answer this query, the only One privy to all knowledge, and the only One who should be asked. By having a relationship with Him through my Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, I trust that human history does have a purpose and that He knows what it is. My understanding of human history is limited to my own life and the events and people who have formed my little slice of history.

As for purpose, my life provides me a way to see God at work, to understand His sovereignty, and to understand how suffering has produced my character and personal traits. Acknowledging God’s existence is key to understanding why things happen as they do, why I’ve experienced what I have, and why I had to endure pain and suffering. Without this knowledge, my time on earth would be futile and without meaning. God works in mysterious ways, but in ways that are easily discernable as His hands at work. When things do not make sense logically, I see that as a calling card of God. When I endure great pain and suffering, I see God at work in my life to produce something in which His greatest purpose will be served and in which my greatest benefit will be realized. The purpose of my human history is to reveal God at work and I believe this holds true on the larger scale of humanity’s history. It also reveals His sovereignty, and His grace to allow me freedom of choice. Though I may choose poorly and suffer the consequences, I know beyond all doubt that His purpose is being served and that my development is being continued. I have meditated on this subject for several years and found great solace in understanding how choice has set me free and has provided safety and security.

God truly is my Father in heaven, Who watches over me, and treats me as His son. As a dad, I know the priceless value in giving my son freedom of choice and allowing him to realize how his choices affect him, good or bad. My development is no different in the eyes of God. By understanding my place in His Kingdom as one of His sons, I know that He cares for me and desires His best for me. I’m content in the knowledge of His sovereignty over my life and how it plays out in my daily life. Liberty at any cost has already been paid through Christ’s death and resurrection, setting all who believe in Him free for all eternity. To understand how very free I am, looking back over my life has provided insight into a man who used to be bound to his own lusts and desires, a blind man who fumbled about, looking for purpose and meaning. This exercise has also produced a deep gratitude for His providence and omniscience in my life since accepting His free provision of life eternal. By accepting His purpose for my life and aligning myself with this purpose, my freedom has increased and I now know what it means to be truly free. How does all of this contribute to my formation as a human being and how does all of this have purpose?

Purpose gives me a reason for my existence. Knowing the purpose for my life and following Christ has given me more peace and contentment than anything the world has to offer. By possessing a solid worldview based on Scripture, my dealings in this life make sense, people’s actions and words are revealed for their true nature, and my time on this earth has meaning. Having possessed a worldview devoid of Truth, I attest to the wonderful reality of God’s grace and mercy. My time in the world has served me well in determining who I am, where I have been, and where I am going, all of which is possible only with God’s help. All things in the universe have a purpose and a function. Not realizing this constitutes a life devoid of purpose. An all too common fate, I freely choose to live life according to God’s Word. This decision brings true freedom and endless choices.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blessed Isolation

Silence. Quiet. Alone. The concept of solitude seems unattainable in today’s go-go world, yet it’s not. Taking a cue from Soren Kierkegaard, we can relearn the benefit of solitude and how it leads to a balanced outlook on life. Though Kierkegaard endured a state of self-imposed isolation at the expense of his own well-being, his insights gleaned from a life of solitude are priceless when one considers the benefits arrived at once solitude is sought and experienced. Specifically, Kierkegaard focuses on the Christian life and how one can not truly grasp his mortality and immortality unless he understands how to relate to God. In order to bring this about, one must seek solitude of the highest magnitude. It’s not merely locking oneself in a closet for 15 minutes a day and praying. No, solitude is healthy disconnection from the world with the purpose of realigning oneself to God and to oneself.
This paper will show how Kierkegaard’s life of solitude can be of benefit to those who seek a deep, committed relationship with God and with those closest to them. To achieve this, a working definition of solitude will be presented, as well as a definition of loneliness to show their differences. Logically, the concept of solitude does not make sense when attempting to strengthen relationships; however, God does not operate in human logical sense. By taking time to reflect on and contemplate life’s greater meaning, one does have the capacity to forge deep and meaningful relationships. This paper will explore the negative and positive aspects of solitude, differentiating between loneliness and solitude. In Kierkegaard’s case, it appears loneliness played a large role, though solitude was his main focus. In both, each has a role, though with a full understanding of solitude, one can achieve a balance in life without experiencing the detrimental effects of loneliness. In a culture that prides itself on community and interdependence, the idea of solitude frightens most people. This is due mainly to a grand misunderstanding of it and how very beneficial it is to maintaining a healthy, vibrant life. Let’s first look into what constitutes solitude and how it is different from loneliness.
On the surface, loneliness and solitude resemble on another. Both appear similar in that they share the element of solitariness.[1] In his book The Seventh Solitude, Ralph Harper characterizes Kierkegaard’s solitude as “one who knows he is a sinner, and who is doubly lonely because he knows inwardness.”[2] This inwardness that Kierkegaard knew was one revealed through a life of solitude. Briefly, inwardness is the instinctive ability of an individual to distinguish the dissimilarity between his fate as an individual and his fate as a human.[3] In other words, he knows his frailty as a finite being before an infinite being; he knows where he stands before an Almighty God. For Kierkegaard, this realization compounded the grief he experienced in his life of solitude, for he confides:
To be sure, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, but I understand it as hitherto, that I must bear my punishment all my life, of remaining in the painful prison of my isolation, in a profound sense cut off from communication with other men.[4]

Here is where a distinction must be made between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely, while loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation.[5] It appears Kierkegaard experienced profound loneliness, though he later conceded that he was one who suffered for the doctrine [of Christianity].[6] Through his suffrage, Christians, or rather, those who aspire to the Christian life may begin to comprehend the utter need, the desperate need, for solitude. As with any information one learns from another, there are parts of the greater whole which may seem useless, as is the case for understanding the benefits of solitude from Kierkegaard. In a larger sense, Kierkegaard’s life demonstrates a life spent apart, set apart for the purposes of God. The volume of work he left behind is all the evidence one needs to, as he states, “make room that God may come.”[7] His life of solitude, of isolation, of loneliness, is at once alluring, disturbing, and comforting. In stark contrast is the modern life bereft of solitary moments, of moments of peace and tranquility. Though this writer does not advocate the extreme measures taken by Kierkegaard in order to come into the presence of God, a portion of the wisdom of Kierkegaardian solitude is fundamentally necessary to a deep relationship with Him. As Kierkegaard argued, one could not know what it is to be a Christian if he did not know what it is to exist, and that he could not know what it means to exist unless he knew inwardness.[8] How does one find this inwardness, this awareness of oneself?
Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind.[9] Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the authority to regulate and fine-tune our lives.[10] Solitude is a choice, as demonstrated by Kierkegaard, but loneliness is imposed by others, therefore not a choice. For Kierkegaard, his loneliness resulted from his insistence to remain solitary in life, even apart from his beloved Regina. The solitude he experienced upon her departure undoubtedly contributed to his prolific writing and his resolve to see the shallow existence of the Christian man of the time period vanquished and replaced with a yearning to engage man’s deepest need, that being to connect with his Creator. The idea that solitude is an outdated method of seeking solace from the demands of human life is simply wrong. In order to bring about a balanced outlook on life, one must remove oneself from the demands of this life for a time of reflection, prayer, reading, introspection, and rest. The wisdom bestowed during this time cannot be granted while one is tied down with the trappings of mortal life. In solitude, one’s awareness of life and the importance of life and sometimes the purpose of life are revealed in a new and fresh way. Jesus demonstrated this when he returned from 40 days in the wilderness undergoing temptation by the devil then delivered his message of repentance and salvation.[11] Solitude may involve a battle, spiritual warfare where one is confronted with the past, tempted by the devil to dwell there, to enter a state of loneliness. It’s with caution and prayer that one enters true solitude. Because of the separation from others, the likelihood of attack from the enemy is heightened; however, the possibility for unhindered victory over present maladies is also present and one of the desired outcomes of properly executed solitude. Kierkegaard desired solitude, it appears, to extract from it a deeper sense of himself as he related to God. His statement above about bearing punishment exposes the true nature of his solitude as loneliness. Loneliness is harsh punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.[12] Significant inroads were made into the Christian existence due to Kierkegaard’s writings, though at great personal cost to him. This writer has grappled with aloneness and loneliness, though solitude is now desired as a way to bring to closure those experiences in life. How does one go about achieving solitude?
In her article “Solitude vs. Loneliness,” Hara Estroff Marano contends we all need periods of solitude.[13] One of the most intriguing aspects of solitude is its impact on intimacy and how temporary removal from a relationship brings new life to it. It’s the old you-never-know-what-you-have-until-it’s-gone syndrome that affects all human relationships that must be combated with solitude. Without a refreshing time apart, a relationship is doomed. This leads to one fully grasping the nature of his relationship with God. Does not God seem far away sometimes, distant and untouchable? This is not by chance. His desire is for his children to draw near to Him, to be in close relationship with Him. His distance should be a warning signal to investigate sin and how it separates us from Him. Only sin has the nature to separate one from God. There is no certitude more unassailable than when the self knows itself as contingent or sinful, when it encounters something as absolutely different as the ever-living God, or when it is so ruined in its guilt that it cries out for deliverance.[14] Confrontation occurs during solitude, and this is one of its great benefits. Fear keeps one from desiring true solitude as one may come face-to-face with oneself. For Kierkegaard, confronting himself and accepting himself played a large role in his solitude. At no other time is one capable of experiencing the cleansing purification of confrontation than when one finds solace in solitude. The fruit, then, of solitude is regaining perspective of who one is, where one belongs, to Whom one belongs, and why one exists. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life.[15] In order to achieve this, one must make a concerted effort to schedule time away fro the demands of life. This can be accomplished in increments of minutes to several months, though severe withdrawal may ensue when one stays out of the normal human goings-on for more than a few weeks. Withdrawal may be beneficial, though, in realigning one’s perspective on the world and to rekindle a sense of wonder and awe to the magnificence of life. Of importance is the knowledge that bouts of loneliness can progress in a healthy manner to times of solitude. For example, the death of a loved one inevitably brings a sense of loneliness, especially the death of one’s spouse. Though a time of mourning is necessary, prolonged loneliness is dangerous to one’s mental well-being. As the mourning period progresses, one may enter into a state of solitude where one discovers oneself apart from the other. Eventually, this time leads to a healthy life apart from the loss of the other. What a grand time this is to discover who one really is, especially if the relationship was very close. To interfere with this process is catastrophic for the bereaved. In a culture in which interpersonal relationships are considered to provide the answer to every form of distress, it’s sometimes difficult to persuade well-meaning helpers that solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support.[16] Solitude must be honored by those who are closest to those who desire it. Does this mean the one seeking solitude has to be absolutely alone? No, one can achieve solitude when others are present, for solitude is a state of mind.[17] Given the present culture of unlimited distraction, though, this writer is hard pressed to agree that solitude can be achieved this way, though each individual possesses a different temperament for experiencing solitude. Driving a vehicle without the radio blaring and while alone can bring limited solitude. In limited doses, one can achieve a sense of solitude from the whirl of life, though uninterrupted solitude is achieved only when one removes himself from the fray of life. For Kierkegaard, to belong to Christ, to stand by others when they suffer, one must first accept oneself.[18] In solitude, one finds oneself, is confronted with oneself, and finally accepts oneself. No other place can provide one with the understanding of life and life’s relationships than that of solitude. By entering into communion with God in the quiet calm of solitude, one can finally rest in His assurance.
[1] Hara Estroff Marano,
[2] Harper, Ralph The Seventh Solitude. 1965. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 26
[3] Harper, Ralph. 21
[4] Harper, Ralph. 10 and 11
[5] Hara Estroff Marano
[6] Harper, Ralph. 9
[7] Harper, Ralph. 25
[8] Harper, Ralph. 22
[9] Hara Estroff Marano
[10] Buchholz, Ester. The Call of Solitude. 1997. Reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster in Psychology Today at
[11] Luke 4:1-14.
[12] Hara Estroff Marano
[14] Harper, Ralph. 24
[15] Hara Estroff Marano
[16] Storr, Anthony. Solitude: A Return to Self. 1988. New York: The Free Press. 29
[17] Buchholz, Ester.
[18] Harper, Ralph. 33