I recently attended a conference where one of the topics in consideration was the growth of mental health issues in the church, as well as in our society. It was reported there is a major impact of loneliness on every level. The growth of loneliness is being experienced by both people and leaders. It is said that when depression begins to take hold, secrecy which produces aloneness is an initial symptom.
I’m sure we have all seen depicted on films and TV channels the punishment of solitary confinement to anyone who is incarcerated, psychologists deem that solitary confinement is tantamount to torture. Being incarcerated into a confined space, away from people is not by far a helpful experience.
The two introductory paragraphs deal fundamentally with the same issue whichever way we look at it. People are not made to be separated from people, people are not made to be outside of community.
The good news of our gospel is that we’ve been welcomed into a community, this community being the divine community of father son and spirit. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ a way has been provided for you and I to return to God. To be a good one within the divine community.
Recently the Royal colleges of GP’s estimated that there are somewhere in the region of 1.1 million lonely people in the UK, 50% of these are more likely to die prematurely than those who have good social networks. In health terms this means that loneliness is as dangerous as diabetes. Talk to any GP and you’ll be shocked at the number of lonely people they speak too throughout the day.
The Scriptures open up with what we call the creation story, this is a continuation of that story, God declares that it is “not good”for humanity to be isolated (Gen. 2:18). Humanity was created to be in the image and likeness of God therefore it is impossible to think of people being alone. Even the writer in the book of Proverbs highlights this person “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom”. Prov. 18:1. In other words to separate to be alone is to separate yourself from the purpose of God, having cultivated such self seeking aim.
Yet modern life with all its connectivity seems to be producing friends, networks, so-called belongings along with visions and goals to give yourself and yet we are more disconnected and suffering from loneliness than ever before. The challenge of being present, fully present when we converse together, when we laugh and weep together seems to be more of a challenge than ever. To be fully the image and likeness of community, of God and realise this is part of our creational make-up and mandate to be.
You and I are made to truly belong, not artificially but truly together, our union with God is to be reflected in our belonging to one another. This is just one of the gifts of the ecclesia to us, a place of belonging to one another. It’s not a belonging to charismatic leaders or a great vision, never mind how helpful we may feel those to be. But a place to belonging to one another working and walking, living our Chirst like life out together.
As we pursue our relationship with God, going deeper into the relationship for us as humanity, its not you and I working to be drawn closer to God but we have been fully brought near, into this union with God, by the gift of God. Become in union with God, a realisation that this relationship is patterned and displayed by the Trinitarian pattern of the Father Son and Spirit that you and I are to reflect and be the image and likeness of this relationship in creation. We come to our own realisation that only when I grasp, when I take hold of what it means for God to be in Trinity I will begin to see the beauty and see the overflowing kindness the love of God and realise that I am to be the image and likeness of God. We are to be the image and likeness of God in this Trinitarian relationship. Will I ever realise how to express togetherness and be part of community. This community will solve the aloneness, the loneliness of many hearts when they realise that belonging first to guard and then be expressed through a community of people that reflect this God centred relationship.
We as the ecclesia in humanity are given the gift of the deep joy of belonging having been welcomed into the community of Christ and belonging to one another.
We live in the society with all its words of friendship, networking, connectivity which however appear, to be working towards isolating people. This is certainly not our abundant life in Christ. I’m struck today by a repeated pattern that Jesus spoke to people when he affected their lives, he tells them to return to your belonging once they met Christ. “Return home”, testify tell the community where you belong, at home. Is this Christ attempting to paint the picture that meeting him brings about immediate belonging and restoration to a community, divine and humanity.
I cannot read John 14:20, John 15 or John 17 without being struck about belonging, one eternal embrace of belonging.
Perhaps, I need to, we need to, realise that I don’t just need you but I belong to you. Perhaps with the cries from lonely people around us, with our society producing isolation, this only goes to indicate that people, our neighbours, and natural families long to belong.
We certainly live in the day where John 13:35 can have its effect ”By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one”, this may result in the greatest evangelism that we’ve ever seen but when we display this love, expressed in this belonging that people will come into the realisation of Christ. Rather than just having evangelistic enterprises but having a community that no first their own belonging in the community of divine love and expressing this love that everyone might know.
Let us join together and turn the aloneness and loneliness of our communities into belonging and its place of investing love which values all and produces belonging, a people of community showing value and importance to each one.