Loneliness and Your God Journey

Posted: July 27, 2015 in Your God Journey
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In general terms “alone” refers to the physical state of being by oneself, without companionship, help, or participation—whereas “loneliness” is the negative feeling of being by oneself, without companionship, help, or participation. Usually the two go together with the physical state of being alone being the cause of the negative feelings called loneliness—but not always. One can be alone and not feel lonely, and/or one can feel horribly lonely and yet not be alone.

On the journey from religion to relationship, a follower of Jesus, in my opinion, must by definition walk alone (or maybe the better word is “individually,” although there will be seasons of physical solitude). As an illustration, I am a music teacher by trade. At our facility we offer both private and group lessons on a variety of instruments—but group lessons are only offered (to multiple students on the same instrument) within a specific context—they are for absolute beginners only, because after only a few weeks, each individual student is progressing at his or her own independent rate of speed and comprehension. At that point, making all students conform to the same lesson plan would be horrendously unfair, and counterproductive.

Because religion is conformity based, “group-think” dominates and individuality and independence are frowned upon. When a believer leaves the institutional paradigm and strikes out on his own to cultivate an authentic relationship with God, “group-think” goes out the window and the heretofore foreign concept of a genuine individual walk with Christ is thrust upon us. And although there will be significant similarities when comparing the journeys of out-of-the-box Christians, ultimately each journey is highly individualized, varying in speed, intensity, and other factors.

Community then, is a combination of relationships. It is the combination of the relationship between “Believer A,” “Believer B,” and “Believer C,” each with God, and each with each other, plus the various combinations of two or more, with the dynamics varying based on the different combinations. (Which is why conformity kills authentic relationship.) If we continue with the musical metaphor, community is like a band or orchestra. Within the group there are different dynamics between the various instruments. There is a different dynamic between how the piano player and the lead vocalist interact as opposed to how the bass player and drummer interact. Plus there is how each individual instrument, and the group, interacts with the conductor to produce a unified whole (Greek: sumphonos, “to sound together”). Within the group there is companionship, help, and participation, even though individual roles are unique.

Loneliness therefore, is the negative feeling that one lacks companionship, help, and participation, regardless of whether one is physically alone or not.

It should come as little surprise then, that the out-of-the-box believer should experience some degree of loneliness, since this journey by definition usually involves separation from “the group” (external), and demands separation from “group think” (internal) in favor of cultivating one’s relationship with God. Painting in very broad strokes, once “group think” has been dismantled, and a healthy relationship with God established (sometimes requiring a season of solitude), healthy relationships with people should follow, thereby re-establishing some degree of community, and relieving the feelings of loneliness.

The crux of the matter then (pun intended) is the cultivation of a genuine, authentic, healthy relationship with God—and this is where the follower of Christ may encounter a kind of loneliness they never expected.

The Bible clearly teaches that God will never leave or forsake us. Therefore, in theory, the believer should never feel loneliness, even when alone, because God is always with us, right? And yet the Bible is also replete with examples of God operating in darkness and obscurity—in other words, operating in ways that make his presence and methods difficult to see, and thereby potentially producing a feeling of lacking companionship, help, or participation, and hence a sense of loneliness. Examples of God operating in darkness include Abraham in Genesis 15:12, and Moses and the children of Israel in Exodus 20:21, to name just two. Plus Isaiah 45 mentions the “treasures of darkness.” Additionally, David clearly wrestled with loneliness, as reflected in Psalm 22 among others.

But the most significant example of God operating in darkness and obscurity and producing loneliness involves the last person we would ever think could experience it—Jesus himself. But if Jesus was tempted in all things, then he too must have experienced loneliness. Having become sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), and with darkness covering all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour (Matt. 27:45), Jesus could not perceive the presence of the Father and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If that isn’t an example of feeling a lack of companionship, help, and participation, I don’t know what is.

The contrast is striking. The foundation and model of all genuine relationship lies within the Godhead, something with which Jesus was intimately familiar from eternity past, and yet at that moment on the cross, Jesus experienced what I can only describe as what must have been the complete opposite—the feeling of complete abandonment and loneliness—totally without companionship, help, or participation. And the most significant part of all—one that I do not claim to understand—is that he somehow managed to feel the most extraordinary loneliness imaginable without sinning, and that his next utterance demonstrates the most extraordinary trust imaginable—“into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Since the human race was built for relationship, it makes sense that along with shame, loneliness would be one of the natural consequences of the fall, and therefore something Jesus paid for on the cross.


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