I wasn’t planning to write about loneliness this week. But as I was preparing to lead a couple of recovery groups, the Lord led me to it, and I became curious about how Scripture comes to life on the topic of loneliness as an aspect of human suffering.
Scripture attests to–and life demonstrates in myriad ways–our need for human connection. Loneliness is a plague upon us worse than COVID, worse than influenza, worse than addiction, worse than whatever other affliction you might name. In fact, loneliness is a causal factor in many of the human problems and sicknesses we might name.
Addiction is especially understood to be a disease rooted in loneliness. In the absence of love and belonging, genuine human connection, we will do just about anything to quiet the pain of our disconnection, our lack of attachment and belonging.
Even in the very beginning, when there was just God speaking into darkness and chaos and creating good things, he declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him…” (Gen. 2:18). God recognized that people need not only God, but other people as well.
Loneliness happens to all of us, and for some, it becomes so normal that they don’t notice or call it loneliness anymore. It’s just the way things are, and they live lives of “quiet desperation,” to borrow a phrase from the brilliant Henry David Thoreau, who probably knew a little bit about loneliness himself.
This is not God’s plan or intention, for any of us, and especially those who are part of his family, to make loneliness a normal, accepted way of life. We should not accept and adapt to it. I believe getting connected to God and others, and staying connected, is an important thing to fight for.
Next to marriage as an illustration of the need for intimate connection, the church as Christ’s body is the best illustration of our connectedness and our need to constantly recognize it.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, instructing them on the proper application of spiritual gifts. He rebukes them, because in their community life, they were not always being practiced in love or in recognition of the interdependence of the connected parts. As one organism, he pictures an eye telling a hand, “I don’t need you!” or a head telling a foot, “I don’t need you!” What an absurd notion! I picture Paul smirking as he writes or dictates that part. Then he elaborates:
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (Rom.12:22-27).
In other words, every part is needed, every part is important, and every part belongs. Period. Whether we want it that way or not, that is how the body is created and how it is to function.
Even in the Old Testament reality, the psalmist understood by the spirit and by intuition that God, a Father to the fatherless and a defender of widows and orphans, “places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6). It is not good for the man, the woman, the child to be alone.
Deep thinkers and feelers like David and Elijah were most vulnerable to sin and rebellion when they were alone and bereft. This is true for all of us. David wrote,
I am like an owl in the desert, like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.
I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof” (Ps.102:6-7). Can you picture that wee owl alone in the wilderness? Can you relate to that image? David cries out in another place,
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish” (Ps. 25:16-17).
To feel afflicted is painful enough. To be afflicted AND lonely with our affliction is more than our hearts are meant to bear. When we suffer, we are to draw near to others and let them share in our suffering, just as we let them rejoice with us in the good times.
Jesus often “withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He also knew the feeling of loneliness and can therefore relate to us when we are caught up in it. But like David, his loneliness drew him to the arms of his Father, and we can follow their example.
We also are wise to continually seek communion, connection, and healthy fellowship with other humans. If we give up this quest, research supports the hypothesis that our loneliness leads to mental and physical illness, and even early death.
In conclusion, we do well to remember Paul’s very comforting exhortation:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
And while we’re at it, we are wise to also remember our need for each other, and all the ways we are to:
Love and serve one another (Jn 13:14; 15:12, 17) Honor one another (Rom 12:10) Instruct one another (Rom 15:14) Care for one another (1 Cor 12:25)
Comfort one another (2 Cor 13:11) Bear one another’s burdens (Eph 4:25) Forgive one another (Eph 4:32) Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
Admonish one another (Col 3:16) Encourage one another (1 Thess 4:18)
Do good to one another (1Th 5:15) Exhort one another (Heb 3:13) Confess our sins to one another (James 5:15) Show hospitality to one another (Rom. 12:13)
Why would the Holy Spirit command so many “one anothers?” Perhaps to make it abundantly clear that we are not to live out this walk of faith alone, or accept loneliness as a way of life. We are to join with one another in the messy work of mutual discipling and care. Our flourishing, and even our very survival depend upon it.