By: Brian Borgman
In 1965 Paul Simon wrote,
I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock
I am an island…
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
In the 10th century, BC, Solomon wrote,
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. (Prov 18:1).
Sometimes isolation can be good. Sometimes we need to get away, clear our heads, feed our souls and seek God. Being an island may serve a short-term purpose. But we were not created, or redeemed, for isolation. Isolation is dangerous, seriously dangerous. God built us for community and when we isolate ourselves from the community He has put us in, we find that our heads and hearts can get fatally self-absorbed. This proverb warns us against isolation. Since Solomon is addressing the covenant community, it seems obvious that his primary concern is isolation from the covenant community. Let’s look at the reasons for isolation.
Reasons for Isolation
This proverb says that we isolate ourselves because we “seek our own desire.” The HCSB says, “One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires.” There is something unmistakably self-centered about separating ourselves from others in the body of Christ. Bruce Waltke notes, “He alienates himself from the community as he seeks self-gratification.” The isolationist doesn’t want any conflict with his own opinions, his own priorities or his own pride. He wants to be left alone in his own self-made little world, where no truth is uncomfortable, where no person is an irritant. “An island feels no pains.” He wants to be with the only person he agrees with and the only person he likes, himself. The results are devastating.
Results of Isolation
The proverbs says that the one who has isolated himself becomes a rebel of sorts. “He breaks out against all sound judgment” (ESV), “He rejects all sound judgment” (NET). The rebellion, driven by pride and self-centeredness, manifests itself by thinking the rebel is the smartest guy in the room. If that’s the case, the rebel thinks he ought to be the only guy in the room. Nobody is as smart, or as wise as the one in isolation. The isolated one has figured out all truth, he has judged the hearts of others, he has idolized his likes and dislikes. All arguments on rejoining oneself to the community fall on deaf ears and are met with biting words. No one understands, no one is as insightful as the isolated one. This is such a foolish and dangerous place to be. Cornelius Plantinga has memorably said, “Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting that it wants what it wants.”
In a recent blog post for the Gospel Coalition, Garrett Kell, writing about fallen leaders, said, “Sin thrives in isolation. Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there. Lies live best in the darkness. That’s why when God calls us to Himself, He calls us into the church.”
Isolation is the place of fools. It is the place of denial that we need anyone except ourselves. In that place of isolation, we exalt ourselves, our own resources, our own abilities, forgetting that we are rebelling against the very wisdom of God. In Bryan Jeffrey Leech’s hymn, We Are God’s People (#355 in our Trinity Hymnal) he writes,
We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place,
Formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace;
We die alone, for on its own each ember loses fire:
Yet joined in one the flame burns on to give warmth and light and to inspire.
Ultimately, isolation is the place of death. The rock may feel no pain and the island may never cry, but they die alone.
Charles Spurgeon once visited one of his deacons who had isolated himself from church. Spurgeon walked into the man’s home without saying a word. The deacon clearly felt uncomfortable. Spurgeon sat in front the fire place, looking intently at the fire. Spurgeon took some tongs and pulled out one of the coals and set it on the brick. The two men stared at the lonesome coal as it dimmed and cooled. Spurgeon stood up, walked to the door, put on his coat. As he opened the door the deacon said, “I understand pastor, I will see you next Sunday.”
Do not be an island, do not isolate yourself from others. You can avoid pain that way, but you also rebel against God’s greater wisdom of being in community with other believers. Don’t allow the toxic root of pride to color your perspective. Pride will tell you in no uncertain terms that you don’t need others and isolation promises a blissful deliverance from people who make your life miserable. God’s wisdom is greater than yours and He knows what you need better than you do and He says you need the body.