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By Sigrid Fowler
Loneliness is a problem today, here in the US and aroundthe world. Some percentages from one survey are revealing: “The number of people who said they felt lonely ‘often, always, or some of the time’ varied by country. Brazil 50%, Turkey 46%, India 43%, Saudi Arabia 43%, Italy 41%, South Africa 40%, Malaysia 39%, Chile 38%, South Korea 38%,Peru37%, France 36%, Argentina 35%, Great Britain 34%, Mexico 34%, Canada 31%, United States 31%, Australia 30%, Singapore 30%” (https://socialself.com/loneliness-statistics/#1). Many causes are suggested, pandemic isolationespecially. An NPR title from January 23, 2020, suggests another: “Most Americans Are Lonely, And Our Workplace Culture May Not Be Helping.” Changing jobs or schools, moves, and work from home are also noted(https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/chronic-loneliness#causes). As Christians, what do we say? Does Scripture help?
The text that comes to mind is a promise of Jesus: “Be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28: 20b NLT). The words comprise the last half of the final line of the Gospel of Matthew. They are striking and emphatic. The other three gospels end in various ways; only Matthew chooses these particular words of Jesus as his conclusion. We can note several things about the promise.
First, Jesus lays out a time frame: “even to the end of the age.” In this way, he brings us all in, not just the disciples living at the time he spoke these words. A promise covering all time is a weighty assurance indeed–all-inclusive, offered to all persons who by faith see themselves among Jesus’ hearers. And notice, he uses the broadest of pronouns—“I will be with you,” he says. Further, this promise recalls and fulfills a Messianic name we all know, “God with us”—i.e., emanu, “with us”; el, God: Emanuel (Matt 1: 23).
In the final half line of Matthew, Jesus doesn’t state a brand-new doctrine, and the promise isn’t added as an afterthought to the record of a miracle-filled ministry. Jesus has already made similar assurances. Speaking to his disciples at the end of his ministry, he said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14: 23 CSB). And again, “I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you” (John 14: 18). At the same time, Jesus made another promise–incidentally, a reminder of Trinitarian truth: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (John 14: 16 NIV). To summarize, Jesus has promised that the Trinity—specifically, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Three-Person God—will be present to those who love Jesus, and that’s forever, time without end.
What does all this have to do with loneliness? Well, maybe nothing. These words of Jesus will be of no consequence to an atheist. I spent about a year in that affliction, and one thing I remember about it was the sense ofemptiness when I looked up at the sky. Before that year, I had been taught in Sunday school, from the pulpit, but especially by my father, that God can be known through nature. We sang the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” and I certainly didn’t see empty space when I looked up at the sky—not until that unhappy year. During that time of looking out through atheists’ eyes, things seemed different—empty, void of meaning. I’m grateful that unfortunate condition didn’t last very long. My point is this: An atheist won’t have the same help with loneliness a theist can anticipate. And for a theist who is also a Christian, an abundance of help is there for the asking. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, has been promised to us—the Spirit of Jesus, who will be with us forever.
Finally, if we take some time to remember who Jesus is—his ministry, his character, his work and life—we will find ourselves encouraged even in loneliness. Jesus’ life was a demonstration of the power of God, Love manifested. And pondering the suffering of Jesus will help us remember that he knows the hard things. He’s been there! Something else: The Person we’re thinking about is God the Son, eternal, never unable to address our needs, even the aches and emptiness of lonely days when life seems barren. Tell him about it. He listens.
• The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years • https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/• Brazil (50%)• Turkey (46%)• India (43%)• Saudi Arabia (43%)• Italy (41%)• South Africa (40%)• Malaysia (39%)• Chile (38%)• South Korea (38%)• Peru (37%)• France (36%)• Argentina (35%)• Great Britain (34%)• Mexico (34%)• Canada (31%)• United States (31%)• Australia (30%)• Singapore (30%)• Thirty-six percent of Americans felt “serious loneliness” in 2020 (or felt lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the previous month), according to Harvard research.• A large-scale Cigna survey that same year pegged loneliness in the United States as being as high as 61 percent.