Every person in America is aware that in the past two months our country has experienced a dramatic cultural transformation resulting from the apparent threat of COVID-19. Though we trust that one day soon the present health threat will end, it is likely that our world has undergone permanent changes, and, in many ways, we will never be the same as we once were.
As the dangers of COVID-19 have become more and more apparent, social isolation has emerged as the main strategy for combatting the spread of the disease. I am certain that when the social distancing and self-quarantines began weeks ago, few people could have foreseen just how challenging life alone would be.
We Were Not Created to Do Life Alone
It is safe to say that most of us were unaware of just how much we depend and thrive on the relational engagement which we experience on a daily basis. How many times have we heard the saying that you don’t miss something until it’s gone? Now just weeks into a federally mandated stay-at-home order, many of us are beginning to feel the adverse effects of living as though we were confined to an island.
For me personally, this has proven to be a valuable and needed time of reflection regarding the idea of community and relationship. In my role as a corporate chaplain, I am constantly counseling people who are lonely and struggling with varying degrees of depression, and almost always, what many of these friends have in common is that they lack deep relationships and intimate communal ties.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not an expert on depression, and I certainly don’t believe that having a friend is all that is required to drive away despair and depression. I am, however, convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God did not create man to do life alone, and when we find ourselves isolated or alone for whatever reason, grave consequences are sure to follow.
From the earliest accounts of creation, the Creator established his ideal relational order when he created the first woman and introduced her to Adam. God’s rationale for his decision to create this particular bond between men and women was simply, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Let’s not overlook the obvious fact that Adam was not alone in the strictest sense because he was in relationship with the Creator, himself. Was there some need that Adam had which God could not meet?
The answer must emphatically be no! In fact, just the opposite is true. Because God is sufficient to meet every need man has, he is free to meet those needs any way he chooses. Relationships with others are only one way in which God intends to share his own presence with us.
A Relational God
The relationships I enjoy are not experiences apart from or instead of God. Instead, these relationships are designed that I might know and experience God more gloriously through life with others. Adam and Eve, along with you and I, were created to function optimally in community and, as a result, to know God more.
Unfortunately, what I’ve described is God’s ideal design for creation, and all of us know painfully well that our relationships seldom function ideally in a way that results in God’s love being displayed. Because of sin’s curse, mankind has bought into the enemy’s lie that an individual’s needs and desires are more important than those of our communal sphere.
All of us are infected with this innate drive to care, protect, and satisfy ourselves at all costs. We are taught, by our culture, that you have to take care of yourself before anything else. However, this is sinful, man-centered thinking.
The Bible compels us to think and live differently than this when Paul instructs us to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). This passage speaks of preferring one another over our own needs or desires. Most of us live as though we don’t need anyone, and we certainly don’t live as though we believe that others need us.
Rather than this being a theological treatise on isolation and loneliness, I would rather like to offer a few practical guidelines for dealing with these real struggles in a day in which relationships and community are valued less and less but needed more and more.
Examples of Loneliness in the Old Testament
First of all, I would like to stress that even though we were not made to live in isolation, God does not waste those seasons even if our own brokenness or the brokenness of those around us has brought it about. The Bible is littered with example after example of people who found themselves alone and confused only to have God reveal himself in profoundly new ways.
Consider Joseph, who was thrown in prison for no fault of his own (Genesis 39:19). Having already been sold by his brothers who hated him and separated him from his father, who loved him, Joseph was cut off from the world. In prison, the Bible tells us that “the LORD was with Joseph. . .” (Genesis 39:21).
We can deduce, from Scripture, that Joseph may have been in prison for 10-12 years of his life. Joseph was not isolated in the sense that he was in solitary confinement, of course, but he was certainly removed from his world and the relationships that were most important to him. At the same time, though, God was with him.
Then there was Elijah, who after predicting the drought that would come to all the land, did as the Lord instructed and went “to live by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:5). We have no way of knowing how long Elijah hid out at the brook, but we do know that the ravens were not his only companions.
Twice we are told, in this passage, that “the word of the LORD” came to Elijah (1 Kings 17:5,8). Whether Elijah’s exile lasted three weeks, months, or years, the LORD utilized this time to stretch the prophet’s faith and prepare him for greater tasks ahead.
Even Jesus Felt Lonely
One of the most important accounts of isolation may just be the 40 days and nights that our Lord spent being tempted in the wilderness to begin his earthly ministry. No one can begin to imagine what this trial might have been like for Jesus.
In the same manner that Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus took the challenge of battling the temptations of the enemy and it was this severe isolation, which instructs us more than any other.
You see, many of the enemy’s victories have come when he is able to isolate the victims from their community. The enemy would never have a better opportunity than this to cause the God-man to stumble, but Satan’s efforts were in vain.
Secondly, we must battle isolation by immersing ourselves with the Word. Jesus’ victorious campaign against the vile serpent in the wilderness was more than a mere show of strength. In overcoming the Tempter, Jesus left a model for how we can do battle in isolation as well.
With each temptation Jesus responded with, “It is written” (Matthew 4:4,7,10), referring to the truth found only in God’s word. It is essential that we always allow the Word of God to be the lens through which we discern reality. When the quiet whispers of the snake speak lies that produce sorrow and fear, we must turn to the truth of God’s Word to settle the storms of our souls.
If the national media and Facebook are your trusted sources for information and truth, then there is little hope for avoiding depression. Be careful what you read or listen to. This warning is just as true for resources that are labeled Christian as it is for secular resources.
Your heart and mind need to be saturated with the scriptures rather than resources about the scriptures. Allow the Holy Spirit to interpret our culture through the principles of God’s Word. If Jesus battled the enemy’s deceit with “It is written” then so should we.
Lastly, I would say to those who might be struggling with isolation and possible depression to seek out godly, healthy relationships with people and families who are already practicing biblical community.
What Does This Mean?
Though God never wastes our isolation, isolation should never become the norm. In these times, you will be more vulnerable and susceptible to the enemy’s attacks and ambushes like no other time.
It was when David isolated himself from his army and his responsibilities that he succumbed to his lust for another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11). Surround yourself with people who love Christ and who love you and who will help you foster a more faithful gospel perspective.
There are no simple fixes to battle depression, but there are steps that can be taken to ensure that we do not battle alone.
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Dr. Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, lives in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer for organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in India, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee. You can find other works by Kirby at www.rickkirby.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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