Statistics tell us that heart disease, cancer and respiratory issues number among the leading causes of death.
George Monbiot suggests another cause we’d be wise to consider: loneliness.
Not car accidents.
Not drug overdoses.
In Monbiot’s words, ‘Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity.’ See, http://www.monbiot.com/2014/10/14/falling-apart/
He further suggests that our rise in loneliness correlates with the rise of our dependence on mediums such as Television and social media.
If his research is right, it sheds light on the influence of social media forces such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It seems the lonely turn to the screen for comfort.
It also sheds light on why addiction (such as pornography) is the gasoline that fuels our country’s prolific economic engine.
Loneliness is the itch these mechanisms hope to scratch; all the way to the bank.
We all, every last one of us, long for meaningful relationships. In the absence of meaningful relationships, we settle for anything or one that offers the slightest hope.
This looming sense of loneliness also unearths a prevailing and primordial craving for the long lost Gospel.
THE GOSPEL IS MORE THAN A PROGRAM, PROJECT OR PRESENTATION
If you have attended church in America – particularly an Evangelical one – with any regularity the past five decades, then you likely think the Gospel is presentation, project or program.
Further, you have often heard the Gospel described in one or more of the following ways:
- The story of my sin and how it separates me from God.
- The story of how Jesus has cleansed me from my sin.
- The story that begins with my sin(s) and ends in Christ’s redemption.
The Gospel is never less than the reality of sin and the hope of redemption. But it is always more. The Gospel begins before my sin and goes beyond my redemption!
Take, for example, our modern struggle with loneliness and the resultant societal conditions and addictions. The Gospel offers hope in the midst of our loneliness and helps us understand why we experience loneliness.
In other words: The Gospel not only answers our questions related to loneliness, fulfillment, purpose, etc. More importantly it helps us understand why we ask them in the first place!! Questions like:
- Why are we lonely?
- Why are we unfulfilled?
- Why is enough never enough?
THE GOSPEL GIVES MEANING TO THE HUNGER IN OUR HEARTS
We experience loneliness because God created the world and her inhabitants so that we might enjoy Communion with him. Communion with God was to result in harmony for all.
Knowing that we were originally intended to be in a dynamic and vital relationship with the creator of the universe helps us understand our longings, yearnings, desires and experience of loneliness today.
It gives added meaning to modern songs like,
- Hungry Heart (Bruce Springsteen)
- Nothing Without Love (Nate Reuss)
- Desire (U2)
- The Monster (Eminem)
- Want to Want Me (Jason Derulo)
Many of these songs fall short of providing the fulfillment we seek. Even so, they help us identify this longing as they take us down roads that offer little hope of fulfillment. Our songs, movies, books, etc. indicate a type of groping for the Gospel.
Though we often fail to recognize it, our cultural pursuits and lifelong engagements reveal a hunger for the hope the Gospel provides.
The apostle Paul speaks to this in Acts 17 while preaching on Mars Hill. Addressing the poets, prophets and philosophers of his day, Paul observes the city’s ancient yearning for communion with God. A yearning exemplified in the cultural icons and artifacts that have shaped the landscape of Athens.
He considers the presence of their ‘idols’ to be evidence of their desire for communion with God. In verse 27, he offers them the hope saying, “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” Our longings, Paul seems to say, are evidence of our desire for God. They are the feelings that stir our heart.
This is chapter 1 of the Gospel. It begins with a sacred desire to be with God. Within the framework of loneliness (a primordial desire to feel our way toward God) we might call this chapter Communion.
The term Communion was used by Augustine who believed the word was derived from com + unus “with, together, oneness, union.”
Communion then is the experience of being with another in oneness and union.
The opening chapter of God’s story to humankind speaks to our deepest desire: to live in communion with God, each other and creation.
Those chapters of God’s story to humankind indicate that we have already experienced this communion. In Genesis we see Adam and Eve relating to God, one another and creation in perfect harmony and peace; shalom.
The narrator calls this “Very good.”
To read the ancient texts of Genesis 1 and 2 is to be caught up in the beauty of God’s creation and the depth of His desire for us and his Joy over us.
This sacred experience has become our primordial DNA; animating our emptiness and directing our desires.
It’s why enough is never enough.
It’s why we complain over a minor detail even after a wonderful experience.
It’s the reason our spouse will never fully satisfy us and why our work – regardless of how meaningful it may be – will never be enough!
ORIGINALLY DESIGNED FOR A ‘WITH GOD’ LIFE
The sacred Gospel -as witnessed in creation – exposes our loneliness as it invites us into a relationship with the Creator.
The culture – as experienced in conflict and chaos – exploits our loneliness. It’s trappings induce a zombie-like existence of human distortion tearing us away from God, one another and the world in which we live.
So, how might our loneliness lead us into meaning rather than pull us further into chaos?
Perhaps the answer is found in the places toward which we direct our loneliness!
Where do you direct your loneliness? To your social media presence? Garnering your sense of hope and fulfillment from the number of likes you have or followers you attract?
Perhaps you have a more noble end than social media. Such as your family, career, spouse, church.
How is that pursuit going? Is your wife exhausted by your unending and perpetual need for more?
How many churches have you left because they simply weren’t offering what you wanted?
Hmm . . .
If Monbiot is correct and if the Gospel begins with the sacred story of communion, then perhaps any aim apart from the Gospel is going to miss its mark!
One of my favorite ‘quotable quotes’ of C.S. Lewis is found in Mere Christianity. This quote speaks to the nature of desire, fulfillment and ultimate hope. The entire Narnia series, in my opinion, is an illustration of this one quote:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
While our looming loneliness may lead to distortion and death, the presence of the Gospel gives us hope. Hope birthed in creation and grounded in the reality that our loneliness is fulfilled in the person and work of Christ, the Messiah.
Bottom line: Our aim must be directed toward a greater end!
Next week we will explore chapter 2 of the Gospel story, entitled Conflict and Control.
Disrupting to Renew,