“We will not discuss here all the wonderful fruits that can come to Christians in solitude and silence. It is all too easy to go dangerously astray in this matter…It [silence] can be a paradise of self-deception…Be that as it may, let none expect from silence anything but a simple encounter with the Word God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 59.
One can sense the tension in this passage; listening (to the Word) silence is critical, but we are not to seek to emulate someone else’s experience, we are not to seek to replicate today what we experienced yesterday – life in the Holy Spirit is real and it is an experience – but it is an experience which He bestows on us, it is not an experience that we can manufacture. Bonhoeffer writes (page 59), “Their silence will be richly rewarded if they do not set any conditions on how they expect this encounter to take place or what they hope to get from it, but simply accept it as it comes.”
When we seek experiences that manifest themselves in certain ways we face the possibility of us producing the experience and its manifestations. There are pitfalls in all that we do when we take our eyes off Jesus. If we simply seek intellectual adventure then our minds drive us, if we seek certain feelings then our emotions lead us – we are neither minds nor emotions, we are people created in the image of God, and then recreated in Jesus Christ, who have minds and emotions and much much more – more than we realize. While we are to seek the gifts and graces of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is not up to us how those gifts and graces express themselves (other than whether we will submit to the Holy Spirit and the Word so that they will be expressed in decency and in order – 1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:39 – 40).
Practices, such as listening silence, that are engaged in for the sake of “spirituality” can become an end in themselves – there is no merit or benefit in being spiritual – but there is great benefit in knowing Jesus Christ. The person who lives in Jesus Christ is spiritual, but not all spiritual people live in Jesus Christ. Thus we have Paul’s relentless propositional phrases, “in Christ”, “with Christ”, “together with Christ”.
How do we guard against living in a “paradise of self-deception”? When we live life together we not only practice listening-silence, we also practice sharing the Word with one another. When we live life together we have brothers and sisters who in love can question our words and actions. When we live in koinonia there is a mutual giving and receiving of the life of Christ and His Word that keeps our lives in the light of day – we cannot hide when we live in the light of the New Jerusalem. Living in community in Christ helps us distinguish between the gold of Divinity and the fool’s gold of earth.