People are afraid of being left alone. Driving to work the other night, I was struck by just how far the enemy’s arrows of loneliness have penetrated our hearts! It is a stealthy arrow whose initial strike is often undiscerned. It poisons hearts with fear of man and sucks them dry of true identity. It kills and destroys life and it deceives people in the most articulate way. Loneliness, often in tandem with jealousy, has killed the old and young, rich and poor, successful and destitute, believer and non-believer. Depression, suicide and loneliness are closely linked, and these are in turn affected by a myriad of life circumstances and stressors. A number of articles and papers mention the “epidemic of loneliness” that is affecting the 21st century globe. It is a worldwide pandemic that seems unstoppable. Research shows that more than half of those over age 50 feel lonely, and that suicide is a leading cause of death in both the young and old. In the workplace, social isolation and feeling unsupported are common complaints. Poems, books and movies often whisper the melancholy tunes of loneliness, and the world seems enchanted.
Ephesians 6 speaks about putting on the whole armour of God, and verse 6 mentions the shield of faith. It says, “…above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” The arrow of loneliness can pierce far and wide, but I believe that the shield of faith can extinguish it. How? Well, I want to explore three facets of how faith defeats loneliness:
- The understanding that we are made to be relational
- Conquering the loneliness of worthlessness through declaration of God’s promises
(the example of King David)
- Conquering the loneliness of spiritual privilege through discipleship
(the example of the prophet Elijah)
WE ARE MADE TO BE RELATIONAL
Thinking about how many people suffer from depression, discouragement and anxiety makes me both sad and angry. This is not what God desires for us! Instead Satan has deceived many by distorting the very center of our purpose in God – we are not made to be lonely; we are made to be in communion with God. The Bible speaks countless times about God dwelling with men, the indwelling Spirit, the Helper who will be with us, the faithfulness of God who never leaves us, of our being co-heirs with Christ, and of eternity with God. The very purpose of Jesus Christ’s tenure on earth was to reconcile man to God.
Loneliness is evidenced in every aspect of relationship breakdown – divorce, abandoned children, forgotten parents, unrequited love, tension in friendships. Many times, people remark that they are not lonely but enjoy the company of their pet, their computer, even just their own mind. What are they doing really? At any time, we are seeking relationship – whether it is with others, with an animal, an object, a hobby or with ourselves. People want to be understood, and to understand, to be able to express who they are, and to be accepted. At the core of relationship is love- whatever that love might be focused on.
Jesus knows what loneliness is. Isaiah 53:3 says:
“He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”
Jesus, our great High Priest knew loneliness. He is a High Priest who can sympathise with our weaknesses, having been “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]
God knows what loneliness is. Having made the perfect Garden of Eden, with all manner of animals, trees, fruits and nature, God thinks of Adam, saying:
“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
God recognised that man, made in God’s own image, must have relationship; and so, woman was made – the first one, named Eve, and she became Adam’s wife
We are made to be in communion with God. Jesus’ prayer for all believers is saturated with the desire that man and God should be in communion . Jesus prays,
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me… And I have declared to them Your name and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Immanuel – “God is with us”. It is the intrinsic cry of our hearts, and it can be satisfied by God and God alone. We can cast all our burdens onto Him and He will carry them. We can speak our dreams and visions, and know that God gives us the desires of our hearts. We can know the heart of God and understand His ways. We can live with Him, reign with Him, and be with Him in eternity. We are made to be in communion with God, our Creator, because we are made in His very own image. [1 Peter 5:7, John 14:15-18, Romans 8:26-27, Revelation 21:3]
We are made to have fellowship with one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages fellowship:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is in the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Book of Acts chronicles the joy of fellowship, and Paul’s letters to the churches show his great longing to see his brethren in the church. So much of the Bible instructs us to encourage one another, love one another and walk with one another with all lowliness, gentleness and long suffering. [Ephesians 4:2-3, Psalm 133]
The first and the second greatest commandments incorporate relationship – Love God, and love one another. The Great Commandment incorporates relationship – the mandate to proclaim the kingdom and salvation of God, His eternal communion with man. Society is built on relationships – the husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, employer and employee, friendships, trading, and all manner of social interactions.
Loneliness is a feeling, but it is not by itself a sin. However, the feeling of loneliness facilitates a favorable medium for sin and spiritual strongholds to form and grow. It can breed hatred, drifting from God, pride, chains of depression, isolation, anger and many other things. The first element of the shield of faith that extinguishes the arrow of loneliness, is the understanding that we are made to be relational. Knowing this, even in times of loneliness, we can remember to cry out to God, and be refreshed in fellowship with one another.