Being human, it seems, includes being alone. God has designed that into the human experience. Even Jesus Christ, as He was dying, asked God why He had forsaken Him. He felt utterly alone in His trial on the cross. And it’s certainly true that no one else was up there with Him. So He was alone in that, wasn’t He? He experienced that.
We can think about Elijah, the prophet, who fled from Jezebel into the wilderness and felt abandoned and alone, and was depressed and complained to God about it. And God told him that there were thousands of other people that hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal yet. He was alone, but it was only in proximity. He later was able to meet other people that felt the way he did.
Paul said that all had forsaken him and was left alone in extreme trial at the end of his life. So he experienced that as a human being. If we think of ourselves as always linked to others in our Christianity, then our understanding is missing a part of the Christian experience.
So let’s explore this part of Christianity – the reality of aloneness in Christian life. Now, let’s begin by defining that – aloneness. What is it? Someone asked me in Albuquerque if aloneness was even a word. We don’t hear that. So let’s think about loneliness. Lonely, loneliness. Alone, aloneness. Now it’s possible to be alone and not feel lonely, isn’t it? When I prepared this sermon, I was alone for quite a while, but I didn’t feel lonely. So there’s a difference, isn’t there?
When you curl up with a good book, you’re alone. Nobody else is reading it with you, but you don’t feel lonely. Or maybe you take a walk, and you’re enjoying your walk, and nobody is with you, but you don’t feel lonely. It’s also possible to be surrounded by many people and still experience aloneness. That would be the opposite situation. So, that’s the distinction that we need to make, because it may impact our salvation at some point.
Let’s look at some examples of when we’re alone in our Christianity. There’s been many times when I’ve walked into a hospital room and I’ve seen someone very sick – perhaps, sick enough to die. And there are flowers and cards and symbols of love and support from friends and family. There are relatives and friends who are usually close by. And I usually pray for the person, and then I join the group of people, who love and hope the best for the one who’s sick. And while we stand gathered around, hoping and praying, we are always aware that we are helpless, because the one who is sick is really beyond our reach in that. They’re alone in their illness, aren’t they? There’s nothing that we can do. And we can’t be sick with them or for them. So they’re alone with their pain. They’re alone in their human weakness. In some cases, they’re alone with the prospect of death. They’re alone with the choice of their own conduct through the trial of their illness. They’re alone in their faith – and how they’re thinking about their illness before God. We can visit them. We can pray for them. We can comfort them, but we can’t suffer with them. We can’t be wise for them. We can’t have character for them. We can’t make the right choices for them. So when a person is in poor health and sick in the hospital – or sick at home – even if they’re surrounded by people, it’s their sickness and they’re alone in it, aren’t they?
Let’s turn to James 1, verse 27, and look at another example.
Jm. 1:27 – Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, To visit the orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. So orphans and widows experience aloneness. They’re alone in that. And we can visit them. We can help them. We can provide some of their needs. We can support them, but ultimately the widow, or the orphan, must grieve alone. They must adjust alone. And they have to go on alone.
Notice that the Bible calls this condition an affliction. It’s not pleasant when that happens to us. And that’s why we’re all admonished to visit and include those who are alone in some kind of trauma or affliction as much as we can. While it is an affliction, there’s also much to be learned from situations like that – which can’t be learned any other way.
I was talking to somebody the other day that was depressed. I said, “Well, you know, it’s no fun to be depressed. It’s very hard. But one thing for sure, if we’ve ever been depressed, we’ll certainly be able to have compassion on all those people that come up in the resurrection that are still depressed from all the things that they’ve gone through in their first life and need help. So it’s just as God says. These alone things that we go through – if we can navigate them successfully – prepare us to help other people. It’s only in the things that we suffer that we’re able to help others. So that’s a positive spin on it.
Think about our relationships with other people. God gave us marriage and friendship to limit aloneness and loneliness, but these relationships don’t completely insulate from aloneness. I met a lady once who got married just out of college to a very nice guy. They were both college educated. They had two children. For quite a while they were very happy together. And as their children got older, they began to argue over what the children would do on Christmas and on the Sabbath – because he wasn’t a part of the church and she was. As she grew more mature in the faith, she wanted to spend more time with the church. It became more important to her. She enjoyed services more. But while she was there, she knew that he was home alone. And she would come home all excited about a sermon she’d heard and tried to explain it to him. But that only made her realize that there was a gulf between them that neither one wanted. And neither one could do anything about it. She told me, “I married him so that I wouldn’t alone, but now we feel more alone than ever!” So sometimes there are things that separate us and cause us to feel alone, even though we’re in a relationship.
When we’re confronted with the death of a mate, or a child or a friend, we see we can do nothing to save them. It causes us to see that we’re distinct from them – that we’re separate from them and, in many ways, alone. Most of the time, when we hear about someone our own age who has died, it brings up our own mortality. We start thinking about that. And it makes us realize that we all have that to face alone. Nobody else is going to take our place in that. We know Christ died for our sins, but we know that death comes once to every man. So we get to do that.
We’re all given the freedom to decide how we will live. The choice is always ours. So our decisions are ours alone, aren’t they? Nobody else can decide for us. Now this can be both popular and unpopular in today’s world. When it comes to making decisions, that’s really popular. Everybody wants to make the decisions. When it comes to accepting the consequences of the decision, well, that’s not such a good thing for a lot of folks. They don’t want to accept that.
I know a boy who decided he was sick and tired of everyone telling him what to do. He said that he was eighteen, he could decide. So he joined the Navy for six years to get away from authority. Of course, when he found out that the Navy was much worse about living his life for him, he was miserable. And unfortunately for him, he blamed it on everyone back home, instead of taking responsibility for the choice that he made by himself, without any guidance from anyone else.
Let’s look at another example of this aloneness that happens to us. It’s in Romans 2:5. We can access it.
Rom. 2:5 – But in accordance with your hardness, and your impenitent heart, you were treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds – not to the deeds of other people, but to our own – eternal life to those, who by patient continuance and doing good, seek for glory, honor and immortality. But to those who are self-seeking, and who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. Why is that? Because we get to choose, don’t we? We make the choices alone. And each one of now stands alone before Christ as He judges us in our life. And we’re responsible for the choices we make – nobody else.
John 5:26 – another interesting scripture in this regard.
Jn. 5:26 – For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and He has given Him authority to execute judgement also, because He is the Son of Man. He knows what it’s like to be alone and to make these choices. Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation. So we’re all going to get to choose how we’re going to live. We’re all going to get to receive the consequences for the choices we’ve made. And no one else can intervene. When we go to the judgment of God, it’s us and Him – face to face, eyeball to eyeball. We don’t have to answer for anyone else’s choices – only our own.
So, sickness, widowhood, sin, human relationships, death, choice, judgment. In these things we’re alone. What can we learn from that? God created man with a sense of self. He’s aware of himself as a being. God created us with a sense of self. This ability gives us the ability to compare ourselves to others, to sense the differences, and in this he’s sensing his separateness from other people. That’s how we know that we are different. And that’s when we feel this aloneness. There are times when we feel close to other people, but when we consider the important issues of life – health, choice, faith, death, judgment, salvation – we’re alone. Why? Why has God created us this way? He could have created a connection between us so that we would always be connected. In fact, that’s what the Kingdom is going to be all about, isn’t it? But not right now.
I think there are two main reasons. There might be others, but I think two main ones. The first one is, that He’s created us with this sense of aloneness – or the fact that we are alone – to build character in us. If you imagine a spectrum of human behavior…at one end, complete oneness with God – and oneness with God is perfect righteousness and perfect love – what would be at the other end of that? Let’s read one of my favorite parables in Luke 16:19.
Lk. 16:19 – There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. Let’s see. “Clothed in purple.” That would be today Armani suits, right? “…and fine linen.” I don’t know what kind of sheets they had in those days. Linen seems a little coarse to my sensibilities at this time, but maybe silk sheets. “…and fared sumptuously every day.” Got to eat steak and those big fat Idaho baking potatoes, or whatever it is that people like to eat. But there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, full of sores that was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. He was so far down that if he could just get some of the crumbs off of this guy’s table, that would be a good thing for him. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. Jesus had a way of painting a picture, didn’t He? So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. When you’re in someone’s bosom, that’s Bible talk for being in close relationship. When you’re in someone’s bosom, you’re hugging them. So he and Abraham, perhaps, were standing arm in arm, holding each other with their arms around each other. It says, The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torment in hades…. Now, if you think of hades as hell…. This parable goes toward, in some people’s minds, that ever burning place that’s just a figment of Dante’s imagination. But we can see this as him about to face the lake of fire. He lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off – he’s a long way off – and Lazarus in his bosom. He cried, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. In could just as well be translated by . Now if you were in an ever burning hell, and your body was burning, which is kind of hard to imagine, because if your body was spirit, it wouldn’t be hurt by fire. And if it was physical, you would be burned up in a very short time – before this conversation, certainly, could have been completed. Right? You would have been overwhelmed. So he says, …did the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I would rather have the New York City Fire Department with several pump engines there. So you’re seeing the picture here. He’s so frightened his mouth is dried out. He needs water – a little bit – so he can even talk. But Abraham says, Son, remember that in your lifetime, you received your good things – you had your Armani suits, your Lamborghinis, your multi-million dollar complexes with the swimming pools, and the security systems, and the guards, and the big dogs, and the artwork and your good things – and likewise, Lazarus received evil things . He sat outside your gate and hoped they’d throw the garbage over that wall. But now he is comforted and you are tormented. Besides all this, there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. You talk about being alone! There’s a guy that’s alone, isn’t he? And what is that ultimate separation? That’s the separation of eternal death. That’s separation from God.
Now, the opposite of that, which is salvation, is all about ending that aloneness and becoming eternally one with God – at one with God. That’s what we’re going to talk about on Atonement, aren’t we? We’ll all be connected in a way that we cannot be connected now. That’s why Atonement is a shadow of something to come and not the reality of what we have today. Other ways that we can know that we’re going to be more connected than we are now to God and others is by what Paul said. He said, “I will know as I am known.” So he’s looking forward to that time when he’s going to know as much about God as God knows about him. And if that’s true, then, he won’t be the only one in that state, will he? Other people will, too. And we’ll likely know as much about each other as we know about God, so we’ll be a lot more connected, won’t we? In fact, Godly love really is this connectedness.
Now we’re still talking about building character, right? One of the two reasons we’re created with this ability – or requirement to be alone. One is character. Let’s say you’re sick in the hospital. Your abdomen is hurting. Your family is with you. The doctor has come. The minister has anointed you. Now, no one knows about your relationship with God – your faith. And under pressure, are you going to be fearful or faithful? That’s your choice, right? Nobody can decide that for you. Are we going to be fearful and terrified? Or are we gong to be faithful and confident? We can decide to pull away from God, or we can decide to draw closer to Him.
Have you ever noticed when people get discouraged, they pull away rather than pull toward? The big tendency, I think, when we’re sick is to pull away rather than to go toward. When we’re in a trial, it’s always harder to pray than when we’re not. I have a young friend who called me the other day. She told me that she’d gone out to dinner with someone her own age, and they’d had such a great talk about the church and about God, and they played church hymns all the way home and sang while they drove. They prayed together, as I recall, and she was just so inspired. She had to call me and tell me that. When she was discouraged she didn’t want to call me so much. But that’s how we all are. And that’s how we are with God, too. When sickness happens to us, that can be a really serious trial for us.
Let’s say that somebody hurts our feelings. For six months you tell yourself that it didn’t really bother you, but you just can’t seem to let go of it somehow. The reason it’s so important it didn’t bother you is, you don’t want to have to go to the person and talk to them, because you’re afraid of the confrontation. Nobody likes that. But the person senses something isn’t right. They come to talk to you about it. Now right there we have a choice, don’t we? We can begin to draw closer to that person by expressing our feelings, or we can lie and increase the alienation. We can say, “Oh, it’s okay. No problem.” So we just create more distance there. Or we can fess up. Yes, we have a problem and we need to work it out with them. And we can immediately start drawing closer together to work the problem out. So it’s our choice, isn’t it, when those things come to us. And it’s always our character that’s at stake, isn’t it?
The next time that happens to us, what’s going to be a little easier to do? Back away from the confrontation again. Whereas, if we choose to open ourselves up, and make ourselves vulnerable, and admit weakness and trust that this person has come out of love – which certainly should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Why would anybody want to confront us if they really didn’t care about us? It’s our choice.
What would be the second reason, then, that God created us alone? Well, I think that it’s to motivate us. Let’s look in Philippians 2:12.
Philp. 2:12 – Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my asbsence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. So there’s an illusion to that, isn’t there. We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Nobody else is going to do that for us, are they? So that should be a motivator for us, shouldn’t it? To realize that we’re alone.
Many years ago, a woman came to me for help. She came almost immediately after I became her pastor. She told me that her former minister had not helped her overcome her problem at all and she was hoping that I could. So, of course, that was like a challenge to me, right? I had to rise to the occasion and try to help this woman. Over our years in that church, we talked many, many times. And I thought a lot about how I might help her. One day I realized that nothing was happening, except that the highway out to her house had ruts worn in it from all the trips I’d made back and forth to her place. I began to realize that I saw her problem as something that was hers and she saw it as way to get me and other people to give her attention. And she was really good at getting attention from me. Over the years she had me there early in the morning, late at night. She had me during work time. She had me on personal time. She had me there during good weather and during extremely bad weather as well. She had a wide repertoire of methods to motivate me to get in my car and drive to her house. She used urgency, guilt, pity and anger. She was good at using all those things to get me to come to her house. And since I love sports, I was a sucker for the game. I played it with her for seven years. Lost every round. After I realized it was an attention-getting thing, I saw that, until she saw that she had to overcome the problem, nothing was going to happen. What brought me to that was the realization that the problem was her problem alone, and that I wasn’t going to solve that problem. She had it before I got there. She had it all the time I was there. And she had it after I left. She will begin to change the day she stops trying to soothe herself with the attention of others and realizes that she alone is the problem and carries the solution in the choices she makes about how she’s going to live her life.
I have another example about this. A number of years after that I was counseling a couple that I had married – I had performed their wedding – and they, within a year, were having marital problems. I’d talked to them many times about their problems. One day the man invited me to his work place. He had a great big mahogany desk with a big cushy chair and a big couch in front of it. He had invited his wife over to talk. He said, “Why don’t you sit behind the desk. I don’t want you and her on the couch, because it will look like I’m telling her what to do.” I said, “Well, I don’t want it to look like I’m telling you what to do either, but I see your point, so I’ll sit in the chair.” I tried to pull it out beside, but there wasn’t very much room. So they sat there and they proceeded to want me to tell them what to do about their latest problem. Learning from my former experience with this other lady, I said, “I’ve talked to you guys repeatedly for the last nine months about these things and I’ve used every trick in my bag. I’ve done everything I can think of to do to solve your problem for you, and I don’t have anything to offer you. But I want to say this one thing to you. You got married in front of 500 people! They’re all your friends and relatives. What’s it going to feel like when they find out that you two are failing in this relationship? Oh, you know, it’s time for me to leave. I’ve got an appointment. I’ll see you later.” I didn’t hear anything from them for three months. One day I said, So how are things going?” He said, “Really good!” I said, “How did that happen?” He said, “You know that day that you came over and we sat on the couch and you sat behind the desk?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “After you left, we figured out our problem for ourselves.” And he could have just as well added, “No thanks to you.” So I was happy for them. The fact that they were alone in that relationship without a referee, without somebody else to help them, is what motivated them to take responsibility for the fact that they were the ones living in that marriage and not me. They were the ones causing the problems. They were ones that could fix them.
I realized that all the effort I’d put in had not helped one wit. It had only made it worse – kind of an illusion, actually. We sit here together at services and we are surrounded by others who believe like we do. We feel like we’re altogether, moving toward the Kingdom of God . And that’s true. There’s truth to that. We do need fellowship and we need to be together. We desperately need the church, but we also need to realize that we are each judged on the decisions we each make in the privacy and the individuality of our own minds.
Now, I think we have all focused on the sense of separateness and aloneness that we feel at times. Here is where we are hit with a bit of a switcheroo. Because even though we are all separated from other human beings by our own fleshly bodies and by space and time…. A lot of times we can’t be with the people we want to be with, because there isn’t the time and we’re not close to them in proximity – they’re across town, across the state, across the country. So even though we are all separated from other beings that way, we are not ever separated from God – not by His choice anyway. We might withdraw from Him in guilt and fear. We just talked about how we do that, don’t we, when we’re discouraged or faithless. But He does not withdraw from us. He’s always with us. There’s never any need to be separated from God – to feel alone in our relationship to Him.
Let’s go to John 8:28.
Jn. 8:28 – Then Jesus said to them, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, that I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left me alone, for I always do those things that please Him. So we can be in the darkest trial. All hope can be extinguished. We can feel utterly abandoned and yet God is still with us – still listening.
Jesus said, “Why have you forsaken Me?” Well, my thought is that God did resurrect Him, so He had not abandoned Him. But Jesus, I think, perhaps was experiencing what we feel when we are in trial. We feel alone. We feel like pulling back. He didn’t. He was crying out, but He was still human and He sensed that. Even though we do the worst things, yet God is still with us. He’s still listening and He’s still committed to saving us. When we come to those places in life where it seems like we’re alone – when we sense others are removed from us, as in sickness, or divorce, or widowhood or illness – we can realize that God is present. We can always count on Him.
I knew a lady once – a lady without a husband. To hear her and to hear people that knew her husband tell it, she was better off without him. She had a daughter to raise on her own. She lost her job over the Sabbath – just what she didn’t need. She lost the home that she had, because she lost her job. Her home was taken away from her. She may have worried. She may have been afraid, but she didn’t withdraw into fear and isolation. She stayed the course. She kept coming to church. She maintained her presence and service in the church – didn’t let that stuff get her down. People that knew her would comment to me that she was the most amazing woman. She maintained a positive attitude through all of these trials. One day I asked her how she was able to endure such severe trials with such spiritual gracefulness. She told me that she knew that there was not much her friends could do for her, because it was her trial and not theirs. She felt very much alone in that, didn’t she? She said it was something she knew that she had to do. Despite this, she said that she knew that she was not alone. God was there all the time. They had never gone hungry, or been cold, or lacked gas to drive to church or clothes for her daughter to wear to school. Quite a story, isn’t it?
To sum it up, we can see that we are all separated from others by our composition and our limitations. We do all stand alone before God for our actions and our thoughts. This is often frightful and painful. Yet we know that God designed us as independent and separate from others to give us the chance to build our own character so that we can be separate and yet interdependent with Him in His Kingdom. If we’re successful, with God’s intervention, with His plan and His help, we, and we alone, will be rewarded for that.
Let’s go to Galatians 6, verse 4. I think about Paul coming toward the end of his life.
Gal. 6:4 – But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone and not in another, for each one will bear his own burden. It’s good for us to acknowledge our separateness, accept it and understand its purpose. If we do, we can let it propel us toward a relationship with God and the reward that He will bring with Him when He banishes death and aloneness by giving us eternal life in togetherness with Him and the Father forever.