I’ve always had a heart for Christians dealing with chronic loneliness. Not just singleness, though that is a cousin – I’m talking social isolation.
Sometimes such isolation comes by a person’s choice. Sometimes it’s because of a person’s toxic attitude.
But a few people are born without the ability to relate. It isn’t really their fault. Those social cues and dynamics you regularly take for granted, like who takes which roles in a multi-person conversation, or reciprocating body language? Totally foreign to those folks, like a shuttered and darkened mall store. They just don’t get it.
These folks come in many different shades; some are almost normative, some learn their way out. But let’s be honest – it doesn’t take much to “bug” others. They spend much of their lives shunned. Their tanks are empty.
And what these people lack from others, they often perceive to lack from God. They feel abandoned. They feel left to their own devices. It’s a daily, pervasive pain that elbows its way into every aspect of life.
The Bible speaks honestly about loneliness, and in notably more somber tones than other trials. “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up!” (Ecc. 4:10). Being stranded on a desert island is one of the most harrowing fates we know; prisons use solitary confinement to break souls. Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness.” Even Jesus, blase as he is about human concerns like money, wanted companionship as his hour approached. He denies himself the fruit of the vine until he can drink it with us (Matt. 26:29).
If “all you need is God” were license to run off to the woods for a life of divine communion without seeing another human again, most theologians would hasten to correct. The Christian life wasn’t meant to be lived solo. We were made in the image of a Trinity that enjoys perfect internal companionship. Timothy Keller said, “Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.” So, with few exceptions (some driven by bitterness), our souls reach for companionship. And God, who works through means, intends great benefits for us through that community.
And when it doesn’t come for some, they wonder if they have been deprived of vast swaths of God’s kingdom.
They have few people to pray with them – “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20).
They enjoy less accountability – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
They have fewer kingdom resources to draw upon when in need (Romans 12:13).
And they cannot help but ask why God isn’t helping.
Put simply, if they feel that God’s hands and feet don’t care, why conclude that his heart does?
Can loneliness cut us off from God?
Something clicked with me from a sermon this week:
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9a)
I cannot imagine that God spoke to Paul without empathy. He acknowledges pain of many kinds throughout Scripture and calls himself the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). God knew that Paul sought relief, peace, freedom. He did not deny the weakness and need.
He did, however, change the route. God’s message was clear: his grace is the only source of life.
Ultimately, it comes down to how you view the universe. Do we really believe that God is the single source of life and goodness? Life and Satan will challenge that assertion. We often only belt it at church, spending the other six days sidling slowly towards comfort TV or staring at stock tickers (guilty).
If we do believe God is the only source, we inevitably believe there is no path to either him or his provisions except going directly to him. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
C.S. Lewis said, “When the first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.” That applies even to the most profound needs and trials. Even if God agrees we need something we’re not getting, he remains first, not just by right, but by necessity. We should know from experience by now that the other way is booby-trapped, inverted, wrapped in paradox. Put a need before God and it will stagnate; put a need after God and it will be watered by his grace.
It doesn’t diminish God to say that lonely people struggle. It does diminish God to say that something other than him must come before him.
Loneliness does not place us beyond God’s reach, nor does it restructure the universe so that we need the church to get to him. Indeed, it suggests that our best chance of having our needs filled – be they community, food, deliverance from any trial – is to abide in God first (John 15:1). Everything else is downstream.
There may still be time and effort involved. I can’t say where the delay comes from.
But when we find greater holes in our soul, God says, “challenge accepted”. As the challenge grows, so does his power. Approach him with your weakness; receive his power overflowing into all else. There is no cup he cannot fill.
I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!