Why Is Loneliness A Thing?
Twentieth century novelist Thomas Wolfe said that the central and inevitable fact of human existence is loneliness. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, married or single, standing on the stage or sitting in the cheap seats, preaching sermons or listening to love songs, we all share the struggle to connect.
I resonate with this thought.
But, we might ask, why is loneliness a thing? Why is it such a thing that medical professionals identify loneliness as a chief cause for disease and even death? Why is it such a thing that the U.K. believed it necessary to commission a new position at the highest level of government: “Minister of Loneliness?”
Why does feeling lonely seem like the norm versus the exception for so many of us? According to the Bible, we experience loneliness not because there is something wrong with us, but because there is something right with us. We experience loneliness because we know, deep down, that we were made for more connection, intimacy, and love than we seem to experience. We sense that this is not how it’s supposed to be. This is true experientially. It is also true theologically.
As the first chapters of Genesis reveal, when God created the universe, he declared it all very good (Genesis 1:1-31). But God still saw something missing with creation—just one thing preventing his perfect world from being complete. “It is not good,” God said, “that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
It is striking that God made this negative assessment about Paradise…before sin and separation and alienation entered the world! God’s perfect world still had one missing piece:
Adam had no companions.
Being made in the image of God, we humans are likened to our Lord who is both One and Three—the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is one of the great mysteries about God—he is an inseparable, eternal, intimate, and affectionate community. If we, who are made in his image, remain islands unto ourselves, if we keep our relationships on the surface, if we push others away to a safe distance, we will fail to thrive. This is true because we cannot be vitally connected to a God who is One and Three while remaining disconnected relationally from each other. He has made us for community, not for isolation; for interdependence, not independence; for relational warmth and receptivity, not for relational coldness and distance.
The answer God provided for Adam’s loneliness in Paradise was Eve, a come-alongside companion, a “helper corresponding to him”(Genesis 2:18). Scripture reveals high regard and honor for those called “helpers.” In fact, the other main character in Scripture who is given the name “helper” is God as he strengthens, protects and provides for his people. Together, Adam and Eve would share life and serve God’s purposes. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, 2:18). When Eve is presented to Adam for the first time, Adam’s artistic inclinations emerge, and history’s first love poem is composed:
“‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:23-25).
A surface reading of these verses may tempt us to think that according to Scripture, the sole answer to our loneliness problem is marriage and that those of us who aren’t married are relationally incomplete. This reading is flawed for many reasons. First, as many sad hearts have come to discover, sometimes the deepest forms of loneliness happen inside a marriage. This is especially true when a husband and wife isolate from each other and struggle to communicate, apologize, and forgive in times of discord. Marriage is not a “magic bullet” that cures the loneliness problem. Second, if it were true that only married people can be relationally complete, we would be forced to conclude that the Bible’s foremost teachers on marriage—Jesus and the Apostle Paul—were both incomplete.
But they weren’t incomplete.
Paul celebrated his life as a single man because it freed him to focus on kingdom concerns without distraction, even declaring that for those who are able, it is best to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:8). Jesus, who was also unmarried, was complete from the beginning as the image of God. He is “the image of the invisible God” and “the exact imprint of (God’s) nature” (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).
Even still, both Paul and Jesus recognized that it was not good for them to be alone, either. Each became deeply tethered to others, nurturing and enjoying an abundance of friends that included both men and women. Paul took traveling companions with him virtually everywhere he went. In every town he visited, he developed deep, lasting friendships. Many of these he would mention by name and with great affection in his New Testament letters. As for Jesus, he had twelve intimate, male companions—the disciples—including his most intimate circle of Peter, James and John…plus several women including sisters Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene.
If Paul and Jesus needed friends like this, then so do we.
This is true because even in Paradise—and even if you are God—it is not good to be alone.
Like Adam and Eve, the only way for the loneliness problem to be resolved for us is to come out of hiding, to risk getting hurt, and to declare our willingness to absorb any and all of the costs and inconveniences of love. For as C.S. Lewis aptly said, “The only place outside of Heaven where we can be perfectly safe from the dangers of love…
So then, shall we go there? Shall we take a risk, show some transparency, introduce ourselves to somebody…go first in saying, “Hi, I’m ________. Here’s my story. What is yours? Would you be interested in getting to know each other? Because I am interested in that.” Shall we join a church, and show up every Sunday and look for the same four or five people, initiate conversation, and also reach out to a few that we’ve yet to meet? Shall we begin acting like the family God says that we are in Christ?
Some food for thought for us to consider.
And? The health of our souls and the authenticity of our lives depends on it. And whatever may come, Jesus will surely be in it with us.
This is a modified excerpt from Scott’s latest book, Irresistible Faith: Become the Kind of Christian That the World Can’t Resist. Used by permission from Thomas Nelson.