Sunday, March 11, 2012
Part 6 - Loneliness In The Bible
Loneliness was experienced by many people in the Bible.....from great prophets, to mighty kings, to men of material wealth and every conceivable blessing. Inner turmoil, outer afflictions, persecutions, and personal loss brought many great men and women of faith to a place of emotional isolation. In their suffering they felt misunderstood, disconnected, and utterly alone.
Those who experience deep loneliness experience the same kinds of emotions, making it difficult for them to reach out. Throughout the Scripture, we see men and women who cried out to God in the pit of their loneliness and despair. Seldom did they reach out to others, and when they did, were often misunderstood or treated with contempt. More often than not, though, they knew that God was the only one who could truly comfort and help them during these times of intense trial.
Their stories...how they dealt with loneliness, and the various aspects of loneliness which defined their experience, their lives, and their relationships with God...are certainly worth exploring. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who bore all of our heartaches and griefs upon the cross, lived a life defined by a supernatural and deep connection with the Father, causing Him to utter the words:
Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me (John 16:32).
Because the Father was with Him, He was never alone. When the world rejected Him, and His closest friends deserted Him, His connection with the Father met every spiritual and personal need. He was complete. Contrast this with other men in Scripture who suffered greatly, and we see how loneliness and despair can take their toll.
Great suffering can bring about feelings of loneliness. One of the most intense accounts of suffering recorded in Scripture was that of Job. As his story unfolds, we see a wealthy and righteous man who loves God and hates evil. The Bible calls him “perfect in his generations,” yet as the story progresses, we see Job at the brink of destruction and despair, having lost his children, his health, and all of his possessions. At one point, the only person he has left in the world, his wife, turns to him and encourages him to “curse God and die.” His three friends offer him no support, and he calls them “miserable comforters” and “worthless physicians.”.
Although we don't usually correlate Job's suffering with loneliness, a closer look at his situation brings us to this observation. His condition isolated him from those around him. Once a beloved and respected man of God, he became a byword and a mockery to others. Job was completely cut off, and had no one.
Job was never “by himself,” per se. His 3 friends remained with him through the ordeal, but even so, Job is completely alone in his suffering. Job hasn't one single person who is of any encouragement to him, and I can only imagine the deep loneliness that he felt, as everyone turned against him in his most painful hour. It was the loneliness of having no real companionship – being completely alone in a place of unbearable despair, with no one to share in his pain. In fact, solitude would probably have offered a lot more comfort to Job that the people he had interaction with. Truly, no one could understand what he was going through. Job was lonely in that he was completely alone in his suffering – even God would not answer him.
Job. 16:6 But now He has worn me out; you have made desolate all my company
Job 13:24 Why do You hide Your face, and regard me as Your enemy?
In his suffering, Job felt completely estranged from everyone around him:
Job 19:13-15 He has removed my brothers far from me, and my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have failed, and my close friends have forgotten me.Those who dwell in my house, and my maidservants, count me as a stranger; I am an alien in their sight
Painful circumstances can often bring one to a place of loneliness. Its as though no one is capable of understanding what you are going through, and you feel disconnected from anyone who is not in the same place. Job felt horribly disconnected from everyone around him. His children were gone, and those closest to him despised him. When someone experiences such life-altering circumstances, the feelings of isolation and disconnect can be overwhelming. Support groups can help ease the loneliness and isolation by putting the grieving person into contact with others who have been in the same place.
For Job, there was no support group. His own suffering completely isolated him from everyone he knew and loved. Those whom he counted faithful had turned on him. The only One who could truly understand and comfort Job at this point was God. The times when we are in our deepest pain are the times when we need God the most. He is the only one capable of reaching down to us and meeting us where we are at.
Job's suffering was multiplied when God did not answer him. At this point, Job was completely alone – or so he thought. The truth is, although He was silent, God was with Job in all of his sufferings. Not once do we see God removing Himself from Job or his situation....nor do we see Job deserting God, or letting go of His promises. Enduring faith was Job's saving grace through this period of affliction and loneliness. He felt lonely, but He knew that he wasn't truly alone, because he trusted God and His faithfulness:
Job 13:15, 16 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation
King David was another Old Testament figure who experienced deep loneliness. The Psalms are filled with passages of anguish and bitter turmoil, and King David pours his heart out in loneliness and affliction:
Ps. 25:16 Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.
Ps. 102:6,7 I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.
Ps. 69:8, I have become a stranger to my brothers,
And an alien to my mother's children
Ps. 6:19,20 You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor
My adversaries are all before You
I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none
And for comforters, but I found none
Most of David's life, before and even after assuming the throne, was spent running from his enemies, and seeking shelter in his relationship with God. Saul was insanely jealous of David's annointing, hated him deeply, and wanted him dead, even though David showed nothing but respect and love for him. He writes Psalms about betrayal and deep anguish of the soul, as in Psalm 41:
Ps. 41:7,9 All who hate me whisper together against me; Against me
they devise my hurt
Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my
bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Ps. 55:12-14 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear
But it was you, a man my equal,
My companion and acquaintance
We took sweet counsel together
And walked to the house of God in the throng
King David experienced betrayal from some of his closest friends. Even his son sought to take the kingdom from him. It is apparent in his writings that David was deeply hurt by these people, and consequently, his ability to put his trust and confidence in others was handicapped. When a person's trust is violated over and over, his ability to trust others suffers. I can imagine this happened with king David. Even so, he never lost faith in God.
It was during these periods of fearful wandering that David wrote some of the most heart-wrenching Psalms of anguish and turmoil. He expressed how everyone was against him and he had no one whom he could trust, and although he had his loyal band of soldiers, David still felt completely alone in his grief. He would literally cry out to God in his anguish, asking for help and expressing his undying devotion, love, and faith in Him:
Ps. 55:22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you.
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Ps. 54:4 Behold, God is my helper
The Lord is with those who uphold my life
Ps. 70:5 But I am poor and needy;
Make haste to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay
Like Job, David felt completely alone in his suffering.....and like Job, he cried out to God because He knew that God was faithful, and the only one who could understand his turmoil and had the power to help him. Because he was God's annointed, he had numerous enemies...and because of his godly fear, Satan sought to destroy him, for he will always seek to destroy those who honor and love God, whom God annoints and loves in return.
Even so, David always turned to God and had a faith that truly sustained him. He poured out his anguish to him, but never stopped trusting in Him. He was a “man after God's own heart,” and only God knew the loneliness and heartache. After his sin with Bathsheba, David expressed deep grief, and pleaded with God:
Ps. 51:11 Cast me not away from Your presence, O Lord;
and take not Your Holy Spirit from me
Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit
David was fearful of losing the presence of God's Spirit, and being separated from Him. He had such a deep and abiding love for God, and the thought of losing God's presence was more than he could bear. For king David, this was the ultimate form of loneliness - being disconnected from the Lord, no longer able to experience that beautiful fellowship.
For Job and king David, loneliness was the offspring of 2 overwhelming factors: personal affliction, and the lack of any real human comfort. Both experienced betrayal by those closest to them. King David experienced the hatred of enemies who sought to kill him. Their loneliness came about because they felt they had to endure their suffering on their own, absent of human sympathy or companionship.
Jesus Christ also experienced loneliness, albeit in a different way. Like Job and king David, He had accusers and enemies. He had followers who rejected him, friends who deserted Him, and disciples who denied and betrayed him. No human being could truly understand what He had to endure, niether in His ministry nor on the cross. Even so, Jesus Christ expressed complete fulfillment in His relationship with the Father:
John 8:29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.
John 16:32 Indeed, the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
During His earthly ministry, Christ was never be alone, as He had unbroken fellowship with the Father -- nor was He lonely, as this fellowship completely fulfilled Him. On the cross, though, He would experience painful separation from the Father and loneliness of the deepest kind. Jesus certainly loved His disciples, and was hurt when many of them “went away.”
John 6:67 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
Even so, Jesus realized that the Father gave these disciples to Him (John 13:11,12). Jesus states that He was “not of the world.” In His earthly ministry, He was not lonely, because of His relationship with the Father, and although His disciples provided human companionship, His intimate connection was with His Father. In the end, even His closest disciples would desert Him, but God the Father would NEVER desert Him, and He would never be alone, not even in death.
The Bible teaches that in every point, Jesus experienced tribulation as we have. He experienced the hurt of being betrayed and rejected, ridiculed and shunned, losing beloved friends and even being dejected by His own family – but even so, He never experienced the hopeless sense of loneliness which any other human being would, because He had unbroken fellowship with the Father – the One whom He experienced perfect unity and fellowship with throughout eternity past – and the One whom we were ultimately created for fellowship with.
Col. 2:10 And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
According to this passage, we are literally “made full” in Christ. What Paul means is that in Christ we find the satisfaction of every spiritual want. All we need we have in Christ. In Eph. 3:19 Paul says “In order that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.” One commentator explains it this way: “Not, ye are made full in Him, but you are in Him, made full. In Him dwells the fulness; being in Him, you are filled.” In our relationship with God we are complete, and lack nothing. God knows us better than any human being ever can, and because of that, only He can fill our deepest spiritual need, and the void that comes when we do not know the Lord.
Through Christ, we are able to experience the blessed fellowship of the Trinity. We can know God intimately, and be a part of this wonderful fellowship which can never be broken. Interestingly enough, it was this fellowship that was broken while Christ was on the cross, and for the first time, Jesus experienced the agony of complete and utter loneliness.
The gospel records the last hours of Jesus death on the cross. In His agony and despair, He cried out My God My God why have You forsaken me? Most people believe that it was at this moment that the Father “turned His back on” the Son. There was a breach of fellowship, and for the first time ever, Jesus Christ experienced a complete separation from the Father – the Father that He knew and loved and had fellowship with throughout eternity past. Suffering on the cross, Jesus Christ experienced absolute loneliness, as His friends, those whom He loved and trusted, and even His own Father – the eternal Father with whom He had experienced the most intimate fellowship, with whom He was interconnected at the deepest personal and spiritual level – had turned their backs on Him. For the first time, He was completely alone. Only His mother and the beloved disciple remained at the cross with Him. These were indeed the loneliest moments of Jesus' life. No human being can fathom or comprehend the depths of such loneliness. Throughout His earthly ministry, He spent hours in prayer to His heavenly Father. He voluntarily experienced physical separation from His heavenly presence, but on the cross, He experienced spiritual separation as well. You could say that Jesus Christ experienced what all humans who do not know God experience, both on earth and to a greater extent when they die. Unlike humans, though, Jesus knew and understood the joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God. It had been His eternal home, His identity, and His love. Those moments must have been excruciatingly painful for Him.
God understands the pain of loneliness because He experienced it on the cross. He understands the pain of separation and isolation because in those brief and agonizing moments, He was cut off from the blessed joys of heavenly fellowship. It was what He had eternally known, and what sustained Him during His earthly ministry. Being separated from the Father was the deepest kind of loneliness, and He was separated for the same reason we are, because our iniquities were placed upon Him.
People who experience deep loneliness are unable to connect with others. Jesus Christ suffered and died so that we may be able to connect with God, and enter into loving fellowship with Him. This was why we were created, and until we have entered into that fellowship, there will always be a void in our lives, although we may not realize it. Human relationships can only fill that void so much. What we need is a relationship with God.
Job and King David both understood this. In their darkest days, their deepest loneliness, they cried out to the God who knows and understands the depths of the human heart.
Ps. 68:5,6 A Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.