Never Alone in Loneliness
Loneliness was perhaps among the most immediate consequences of the fall. Adam’s first new instinct was to hide from God and then to distance himself from his wife. After the pronouncement of the curse, they were directly driven out of the Garden, out of the presence of God (Gen 3). That separation, caused by sin, created the loneliness that has accompanied Adam’s offspring ever since. And it would continue for eternity, but for Christ’s vicarious suffering. Jesus' closest friends abandoned Him when He needed them most-- in Gethsemane, at His trial, and on the cross, He felt the pain of loneliness. He did not stoically suppress His human desire for their sympathy, but entrusted Himself fully to the Father (Jn 16:32). He felt the weight of their abandonment and betrayal (Mt 26). He drank to the dregs all the condemnation that His people deserved, and so His human experience included desertion by his fellow man, in order to overcome another of our merited miseries (Heb 2:17-18).
Because a servant is not above his master, we would do well to prepare for times of loneliness as his people. While loneliness is an effect of sin and not sin itself, it comes with strong temptations to cowardice, despair, and self-pity. The Scriptures anticipate the dangers. Peter encourages us as we resist the devil to remember “that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Pt 5:9) And the author of Hebrews steadies our courage by the Hall of Faith and the cloud of witnesses (Heb 11-12). The very need to have these encouragements imply that God’s people will experience loneliness. As Spurgeon puts it, “Christ’s sheep love to go in flocks...Yet somewhere or other on the road, every Christian will find narrow places and close paths where pilgrims must march in single file.”1
Often God’s people will find themselves lonely while going against cultural norms. The missionary who leaves all familiarity to share Christ, the parents who interrupt the ideal family dream to adopt children from broken situations, the teenager who won’t miss church for his baseball game, the large family stretching their resources to raise eternal worshippers of Christ, the single woman who chooses to remain single than settle for an unequal yoke-- any time the Christian makes an uncommon decision he will be isolated in struggles that are misunderstood by onlookers.
Bearing another’s burdens with dignity often requires solitude of the saints. Have you been the confidant to a sensitive matter of sin, or the caregiver to an aging parent, perhaps your child is struggling with friends, or you’ve been sinned against and need to cover it in love? Like Shem and Japheth, did you walk in backwards to cover your father’s nakedness and keep the matter from going no further (Gen 9:23)? To fast and pray, give and weep, to cover over the sins of others can be lonely tasks. The sufferer may never even fully understand your sacrifice. If we do not have a category for an expectation of loneliness while bearing another’s burdens, we will not be able to serve without demanding reciprocity (Luke 6:34).
Loneliness can accompany the many people whose service to God remains behind the scenes. We’ve all heard stories of estates where families find a fortune hidden between the pages of books, inside mattresses, and buried in the backyard. I think many faithful churches are like that. We walk around conscious of a few valuable names, but really surrounded in hidden riches. Our own names are precious to us, and while one day all God’s people will see them published in the Book of Life, many will serve without the comfort of human acknowledgment.
And of course loneliness is a close companion of suffering. At its worst the sufferer experiences the desertion or even scorn of his friends and the triumphant gaze of his enemies, as Christ did in his last hours. Slander, chronic illness, loyalty to a complicated friend, repentance for besetting sin can cause mistrust, impatience, or selfish fear among brothers. But even when suffering is easily pitied and accompanied by compassion and practical help, the finite hearts and minds of those we love simply must stop short of our greatest needs. “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26) We experience weakness that we are not even able to articulate in our prayers, let alone to another creature.
There are as many opportunities for loneliness as there are souls. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made, we each occupy a particular time and space, and we will each die and stand before our Maker alone. But the truth is, we are never really alone, even in our loneliness. Hagar was used, cast-off, pregnant, vulnerable, alone in the wilderness, but “the Angel of the Lord found her.” She called his name, El Roi, the God who sees (Gen 16). The omniscient, omnipresent, infinite El Roi finds all His people. Because Christ was rejected and despised by men and forsaken by the Father in his death, we will never be left alone. The Father afflicted the Son to bring us near. Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the age. And he has sent us the Comforter, the one who always understands our inarticulate cries and brings them before the throne. The triune God is knitting his people back together and ushering us into his own presence for all eternity. We are never alone.
1. Spurgeon, Charles H. "Christ's Loneliness and Ours." Sermon. Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 8 Aug. 1907. Spurgeon Gems. Web
Danielle Spencer is the happy wife and helper of Chris Spencer and the homeschooling mom of 8 kids (1 of whom is due this August). They are members of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI. She writes about their adventures and other musings at talkingwall.org
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