It’s the first thing that God says is ‘Not good….’ and this is before the Fall.
Picture it. Adam is in paradise and God has made him king of the world. He has meaningful work to do, the entire animal kingdom to oversee, a world to explore and the Lord to walk with. From the world’s eyes, Adam has it all – yet God looks and says “Not good.”
Why? Because the Three-in-One God made us to depend on others. Even if we have Him, He wants us to be in community. But ever since the Garden, we’re not only cut off from God, but from one another. It’s no coincidence that the story of Cain and Abel follows the story of Adam and Eve. Just as Cain howls, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” our relationships are also torn apart by pride, anger and fear. East of Eden is a lonely place; do you feel it too?
Perhaps, you’re thinking, Adam got it easy. After all, he got Eve, so he didn’t have to be lonely – right? Except that’s not how it panned out. In the next chapter, their crumbling marriage brings about the downfall of the universe… and then they really start bickering. A friend has described what couples from Adam and Eve onwards have found: “at times marriage can feel like the loneliest place on earth.”
So whether we’re married or single, Christian or not, loneliness is universal. But if that’s the case, why is it so hard to admit? “I’m busy” trips off the tongue. “I’m lonely” less so. The former shouts ‘success’, the latter feels like an admission of failure. But maybe loneliness and busyness are linked. Maybe we’re always doing, because it covers a deep and painful need.
Nowadays we don’t so much befriend people as “friend” them. We have edited relationships with edited versions of real people; folks who can retreat or ghost or check out without warning. And there’s so much choice! I can unfriend in a click. Or just mute. I can create communities out of shared interests, no matter how niche, and there’ll be at least 50 people somewhere on the internet who can relate. But then… can they relate? Actually relate? And will their words solve the ache in my soul for connection?
One way to describe Jesus’ ministry was “reconnection.” The Son of the Father came to reconcile the estranged and alienated, to bring them into the family of God. He restored us to God, to ourselves and to one another. But what was Jesus’ own experience of loneliness?
In Luke 5, Jesus heals a leper, restoring him to God and to his community (v12-15) but the whole scene ends like this:
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (v16)
The disconnected leper is given a home while the beloved Son is isolated. Of course Jesus is not completely alone here. He is with the Father, and consciously, prayerfully so. But it’s a wonderful picture of the gospel. Jesus, like a scapegoat, goes into the wilderness while the leper comes into fellowship. He takes the loneliness (to the Father) and the leper gets the reconciliation.
The night before Jesus died, he says he had “eagerly desired” to eat the Passover with his friends (Luke 22:15). He longed for fellowship even though he knew that this very night every one of them would desert, deny or betray him. Still he wants their friendship. He takes Peter, James and John (his most intimate allies) into the garden of Gethsemane to “watch and pray” with him. They can’t do it. They can’t be the friends Jesus needs and so He goes to His trial and death forsaken by earth. On the cross He even experiences godforsakenness (Mark 15:34), dying as the loneliest man there has ever been. He takes the isolation so that we might be brought home to God.
So what should we expect when it comes to loneliness?
We should seek real community and intimacy wherever we can. We were made for it, the Son of God pursued it, we definitely need it.
At the same time we should not be surprised by loneliness. It’s a universal experience – even if we’re surrounded by family and friends. Jesus himself knew loneliness. We will not escape it.
What then is our response? Jesus never insulated himself from feelings of loneliness. Over and over He made himself vulnerable — to friends he knew would let him down. He gave Himself in relationships that ended in betrayal, buoyed up only by His union with the Father.
This is our calling. We are made for relationship, but there’s a fulfilment that will come only when Jesus returns. In the meantime we are to make ourselves vulnerable in order to offer fellowship to others. Like Jesus, and in Jesus, we risk emotionally to bring others the security we crave, knowing that Jesus will meet us even in our “lonely places.”
Even “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24).