A brief response to social loneliness

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A short theological reflection from Deacon Selina Nisbett.

"It is not good for man to be alone. Hitherto all things in Genesis that have been named, were approved of God to be very good: loneliness is the first thing which God's eye named not good." wrote John Milton in 1645, at a time of great personal loneliness.

However we approach the book of Genesis theologically, the profound truth of the message is, that for humankind, loneliness hinders personal and communal flourishing. We see a bountiful creation emerging, in both creation stories, but in Genesis 2, when it comes to humanity, God declares that there is something missing, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Genesis 2 v 18

In the creation account in Chapter 1, the notion of community/ fellowship is disclosed when God declares "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness." Therefore, if we believe we are made in the image of God, we must recognize the importance of that inbuilt need for fellowship with one another in order to thrive.

The deep truth in the story of Adam and Eve, illustrates, that God intends for us to share our lives with others, and the value of personal relationships in God's eyes is emphasised by the amount of space devoted to them and to fellowship in scripture. We have an innate desire to be loved and to belong as full members of society and loneliness denies people this intrinsic human need.

The gospels are full of examples of hospitality, a fundamental feature of Judaism, and there are many examples too, of Jesus overstepping the conventions of the day to engage and minister to those on the margins of society, to bring them back into fellowship with their communities.
These are just a few examples:
Luke 5 12-16- the man with leprosy
John 4 5-42- the woman at the well
Luke 7:11-17 the widow of Nain
Mark 5 V 1-20 Jesus heals a demon-possessed man
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus meets with Zacchaeus
Matthew 12 9-14 Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath

Even as Jesus hangs upon the cross, there is a recognition of a deep human need that must be met: John 19 says this:
"When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said, "Woman here is your son," and to the disciple "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home."

At the foot of the cross we find a new spiritual family being formed and a new means of belonging affirmed. Jesus demonstrates that as members of transformed communities, we are to incorporate new relationships with each other, and to become as family, caring and supporting one another.

Rev'd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin in the Fields in London reflects upon this scene- "Jesus is recognizing that the conventional family cannot always provide all the security, stability and endurance we each need, and in the face of tragedy, something beautiful can emerge that turns the love of these two people for Jesus into a new kind of love and care for one another."

The early church, set at its heart, the duty to care for the poor and marginalised. Such was the importance of this ministry, that in Acts 6, seven people were appointed to focus their attention on caring for and transforming the plight of "widows." (In this passage, the word "widows" could be seen today as those who are marginalized and those who are having a difficult time. This characteristic of the early church is in the pattern of Christ's manifesto set out in Luke 4.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour,"

Contemplating the exile of loneliness, CS Lewis wrote, "I am convinced that no experience or emotion more closely resembles hell than loneliness"

Contemporary studies as well as psychological experiments, have provided rich insights into the impact of loneliness upon people. Infants and children who have been unable to form close attachments, will often fail to thrive and flourish, (Bowlby) and the same can be said of adults (Cacioppo) who become captive and oppressed by isolation and loneliness.

Through our relationships with family, friends, and others, we form our sense of personhood and find our place in the tapestry of life. When that need for fellowship goes unfulfilled, we are diminished, in body, mind and spirit and struggle to aspire to the fulness of life that Christ promised to all.

In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us through a parable, how we should view our ministry to one another with these words, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

On the night before he died, Jesus asked his friends to keep company with him in the garden of Gethsemane at his most desperate hour. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Three times they fell asleep and failed him in his time of need and three times he was denied.

Are we ready to see Christ in those we meet and "keep watch" with them?

Deacon Selina Nisbett

The image shown is taken from SIEGER KODER MORE ART AND INSPIRATION — used with permission Pauline Books and Media

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