Fighting Loneliness in the Coronavirus Outbreak
Welcome everyone. This is a special episode of the podcast based on what’s happening in the world right now. We don’t plan to have a lot of coronavirus episodes, but a few topics should get addressed, and that includes the topic of loneliness.
This season of self-quarantine is abnormal to most of us. And that means the feeling of loneliness is a reality for all of us. We cannot visit retirement homes. Closed off to us now are churches and workplaces and restaurants. The sense of isolation and loneliness so common before this virus has been amplified by this quarantine. No surprise, we’re hearing this theme in our inbox as listeners write in. So, Pastor John, what would you say to the lonely during this season?
That’s a good word you just said: amplification. Things are amplified now that, in a sense, have always been true for some. So, maybe the first thing to say is that I’m aware that thousands of Christians live alone all the time and deal with the issue of aloneness and sometimes loneliness even when there is no coronavirus to amplify the issue. A few of these people love it that way. Most of them probably can imagine situations they’d rather be in, whether marriage or friendships or memberships that just haven’t come their way.
So, we’re not talking about an issue here that is relevant only during coronavirus. But there is no doubt that millions of people are being thrown now into a kind of life that they have never lived before — at least not in this way.
Alone Is Not Ideal
These really are unprecedented days, and we don’t know how long they’re going to go, and we don’t know how bad things are going to get or not. So, it’s good to say in general, for the long-term issue of aloneness or loneliness or the short-term issue of loneliness during this crisis, that it’s okay to believe and to feel that loneliness or aloneness is not the ideal way of life that God set up for humanity at the beginning. It’s okay to believe that. God said to Adam when he was alone in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
But the world isn’t the way it was created to be, and there are many reasons — some good, some justifiable, some bad — for why people are alone. Paul wasn’t married. Jesus wasn’t married. They knew lots of aloneness. Thousands of missionaries have had fruitful ministries without marriage partners, which means that even though aloneness is not ideal, God has provided grace for all kinds of situations in this fallen world that are not ideal. And loneliness is one of them. He’s not unaware of it. Jesus experienced it, and there is grace for it — whether the short term of coronavirus loneliness or the long term of a life situation that involves loneliness.
Savior in Solitude
One way that God planned grace for the lonely is by sending his Son to become a human being so that Jesus, his Son, could experience a kind of loneliness that would make him, the Bible says, a sympathetic high priest for the lonely (Hebrews 4:15). I think the Gethsemane scene the night before he died is one of the most poignant in the Bible. Jesus takes his closest friends — Peter, James, and John — apart and he says,
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther [so that means he’s now alone] he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:38–40)
That happened three times. They fell asleep on him. He wanted their partnership in prayer in this hour — he was a human being — and they couldn’t do it. It gets worse. When the soldiers come, it says then that they all forsook him and fled (Mark 14:50). And it gets worse yet, because the next morning, Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Mercy in Our Loneliness
Now, why so much loneliness in his suffering? Because it was all according to the Scripture. This was planned. Why? Well, among other reasons, it was so that Hebrews 4:15–16 could be in the Bible for lonely people.
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted [or tested] as we are [perhaps with loneliness], yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The text says “in time of need,” but you could just supply “in time of loneliness.” So, Christ experienced utter forsakenness, utter loneliness, so that we would boldly pray for grace — a special grace in time of loneliness — and would have confidence that he would give it.
‘Turn to Me, O Lord’
Now, what might a prayer like that sound like? Well, here’s what it sounded like in the mouth of David in Psalm 25:16:
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
David had a lot of crises where he was cut off from the people he needed. This is a good prayer right now for thousands of people.
Will God answer that prayer? There are good reasons to believe that he will. First because he made provisions for it while he was still here. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). The last thing he said on earth was, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In other words, he sends the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ, and he will be with every Christian. Christian, you are not alone. I’ll say it again: Christian, you are not alone. This is absolutely wonderful. You are never alone. The most important person in the universe — mark this — is with you personally. He promised to be. He doesn’t break his word. He is.
The second reason we can expect the sweet answer to that prayer is this: “Fear not, for I am with you.” There it is. You don’t even need to go any farther in Isaiah 41:10 — even though we want to.
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
But the first phrase is everything: Fear not, for I am with you.
Or here’s the way Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” In other words, there is a grace — a well-timed grace — to make you fruitful in times of loneliness.
He Will Come to Us
So, the experience of loneliness is real for God’s people — even God’s people. Because this world is not what it was created to be yet. In its ideal form, when it was made, it fell. It is a fallen world, and our relationships are fallen, and viruses are fallen.
But God did not leave the world and its brokenness without grace — special grace for every need that his people have, including the need of loneliness. Jesus purchased that grace for sinners with his own lonely suffering. He knows our frame. He has tasted it — worse than we know. And he will not leave us as orphans. He will come to us. Whether the coronavirus isolates us or takes our life, he will not leave us alone. This is a precious and sure promise.