Loneliness is a disease permeating our secular and selfish society, a culture driven by a frantic quest for success, an affliction causing great anguish and anxiety for millions of people who feel trapped by their fears: the fear of failure, the fear of illness, the fear of death – or just the fear of life itself, the fear of living alone and dying alone, the fear of never having any one who loves us just as we are, without trying to change us – the fear of having no lasting, satisfying, significant relationships. These feelings, these fears, lie at the heart of the human condition, the need for a “sense of belonging,” the need to love and be loved.
As we have seen in my most recent posts we were created for meaningful and rewarding relationships. Christianity is relational: the right relationship with our Creator (i.e. joyful worship, steadfast trust, loving intimacy, willing obedience, enjoying God forever); the right relationship with ourselves, neither self-conceit or self-contempt, but “love of self” in the biblical sense (i.e. knowing who you really are, where you came from, where you are going, and where you will be when you get there; understanding what makes each of us special, and seeking to become the persons God created each of us us to be); the right relationship with others (i.e. love, respect, service, appreciating every person’s uniqueness and worth, especially in the eyes of God); finally, the right relationship with the world (not only seeing the world as our “mission field” as followers of Jesus (i.e. taking the whole Gospel to the whole world), but also knowing that this planet we live on has been entrusted to our care by our Creator, to whom we are accountable as partners in God’s continuing creation.
Of course, the most important of these relationships is our relationship with God (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul” – Jesus called this the “Greatest Commandment”). The second commandment in importance God’s command to love ourselves, the loving relationship we have with ourselves, for that will determine to a large extent the quality of the relationships we have with others (“Love your neighbor as you love yourself“). Those words of Jesus are so often misunderstood and misinterpreted. Some will say, “Sure, I do think it is very important to love yourself, to look out for yourself, to take responsibility for yourself. For after all, nobody else is going to do that for you. In the end you must answer to no one but yourself.”
That may sound right at first, but if you really get to know the people making such statements, expressing such feelings, you will often find the malady of loneliness, the belief that he or she really is alone. You will discover this fear with all of its terrible consequences: “No one really loves me for the person I am, so I must love myself. No one really cares for me, so in the final analysis I must care for myself. No one else is going to be there for me, no one else is going to look out for me, so I must first look out for myself, and do it well.” This attitude lies at the heart of the human condition, and this is the condition to which the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks. Here is the “Good News” all of us need to hear and believe: each of us is greatly loved, loved unconditionally and unendingly; and we are never really alone! The proof of God’s amazing love is this, “…that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) – “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (vs. 1). The most familiar verse in the New Testament is John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”, but how many people are familiar with this text from the First Letter of John, apparently written by the same apostle who wrote the Fourth Gospel, the same chapter and the same verse: “We know love by this, that he (i.e. Jesus) laid down his life for us”?
Jesus – the One for whom one person was a great audience! Jesus – the One who lovingly touched and cleansed a lonely leper, an outcast, who felt that no one really cared! Jesus – the One who hearkened to the feeblest cry for help, who was “moved with compassion” when He saw people “…harassed and helpless” feeling like “sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus – the One who ministered so lovingly to a woman caught in the very act of adultery, and did not condemn her, but said “Go and sin no more.” Jesus – the One who sought out despised tax collectors, who enjoyed having table fellowship with sinners! Jesus – the One who told His sorrowing disciples, “I will not leave you alone in this world” (the Greek word is “orphanes,“ i.e. orphans)…I will be with you always.” Jesus – the One who “…having loved his own, loved them to the end.” Jesus – the One who said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell (the “powers of death”) will not prevail against it.”
This is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ (that is the meaning of the word “gospel”). We are not alone in this world. God is with us. God loves us. God cares for us. No one ever cared for us like Jesus – but we must accept this wonderful truth; we must believe that the “Son of God” became the “Son of Man,” that we who are the sons and daughters of men might become the “children of God” (John 1:12-13). This is the Gospel that the followers of Jesus Christ have been commissioned to share with this broken, fragmented, and alienated world, where millions of people struggle daily with the dreadful disease of loneliness. As followers of Jesus, we must not only believe it and share it, we must live it! We must not only proclaim it, we must practice it! We must incarnate it! It must take on the flesh and blood of you and me, imperfect vessels though we may be. For it is only through our lives, and through our shared life in the Body of Christ, as we embody the Gospel of God’s perfect, impartial. and inclusive love that the “Good News” will be both heard and believed. It has been said, “Most people would rather see a sermon than hear one any day!”
So what is the message? What is the bottom line? Simply this: whenever and wherever the followers of Jesus actually “do the Gospel,” when it is authentically demonstrated in the worship and work of Christ’s Church, people are attracted to it. They are not not only drawn to Jesus Himself by His claim on their lives, but are also convicted and called by the Holy Spirit to take their place in the community of faith, the fellowship of the Body of Christ, which is meant to be God’s cure for loneliness. When the Church is functioning properly, Christianity becomes contagious because of the way we love each other as Christians, because of the way we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, because of the empathy with which we “bear one another’s burdens,” because of the tenderness with which we “…weep with those who weep” and the joy with which “…we rejoice with those who rejoice.” In other words, when the Gospel is made real anywhere in this world, we are witnesses to what happens: others are attracted to both Christ and His Church, for Christians who have refused to be “conformed to this world” have become “transformed nonconformists, who are helping to transform this world (Romans 12:1) – where so many who have been trapped by the fear of their own loneliness are finally and joyously being set free!
And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding, and the blessed assurance of Christ’s abiding and unending presence, keep YOUR mind and heart free of all your fears, for if our loving and gracious Lord sets you free, you shall be free indeed!