Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted (Psalm 25:16).
Who among us has not believed at some point in our lives, "I am alone"?
It is impossible to read the Bible and not know that we were created to be in a relationship with God and others. Failure to engage in a productive relationship produces loneliness which in turn initiates isolation ending in despair.
Yet sometimes, even if we are in healthy relationships, we are still beset with the darkness of loneliness and despair. How can that be? Especially if we are believers and Christ followers? In a word…rejection.
Think about this for a moment. When Jesus began His public ministry, He was compelled by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It was an act of submission and obedience and even though He was alone and weakened by fasting for over a month, He was still spiritually strong enough to do combat with the Devil (and win). Yet on the night of His betrayal (some three or so years later), as He entered the Garden of Gethsemane, He implored Peter, James, and John to “watch” (stay awake and pray) with and for Him. But they couldn’t even though He told them that “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…(Matthew 26:38).
Do you see the difference? He wasn’t lonely or sorrowful in the wilderness because He was there as a cooperative act with another member of the Godhead. Fellowship within the Trinity was as strong as it had ever been throughout eternity. Though He was by Himself in the wilderness He was not alone as He faced Satan. Yet in the Garden of Gethsemane He was a Man who had been rejected by the religious leadership of Israel, rejected (for the most part) by the people of Israel, rejected by one of His own apostles, and on the precipice of being forsaken by God the Father Almighty (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). As Isaiah 53:3 says,
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…
Jesus was lonely, forsaken, and abandoned in Gethsemane (figuratively at first and then literally when He was arrested). It was in that garden that the Son of God was confronted by utter, complete, and devastating rejection. It nearly killed Him before the cross.
Rejection is an intentional act of disfellowshipping from relationship(s). In other words, rejection knowingly produces isolation and the accompanying darkness produces despair no matter how many people are around or how much history says you are loved. Let me give you a few other biblical examples.
In 1 Kings 18-19, the mighty prophet Elijah twice cried out “I, even I only, am left…”(18:22 & 19:10). In between those affirmations of loneliness was an obscene and obnoxious request for God to murder him (“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life…19:4). What on earth could drain the inner fire from a man who had raised the dead, prayed for both drought and rain with stunning success, and called fire down from heaven on Mt. Carmel? Rejection.
Jezebel utterly rejected Elijah’s faith, power, and God even though all three had been on magnificent display in the battle of the prophets. Her rejection of everything about him sent the powerful prophet into such a dizzying tailspin of depression and isolation that he begged for death.
If you have read the book of Job you know his losses were catastrophic in every sense of the word. Sudden, complete, utter ruination. What we tend to forget as we read the book of Job is that God was silent until the end of the story. God was silent on the day of Job’s catastrophe. He was silent during the days of his mourning. And He was silent as Job was raked over the proverbial coals by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
While Job fought for his integrity against his three “friends” and maintained his confidence in God’s righteousness, it is clear that he stumbled on his suspicion that he had been rejected by God for some unknown reason.
God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me (Job 30:19-21).
The power of rejection (real or perceived) is enough to drive even the most righteous (Job 1:8) into the cold icy fingers of despair proceeding from the hand of isolation.
Jonah’s story of rejection is almost the polar opposite of Job’s. Jonah’s isolation and despair weren’t due to a real or perceived rejection by God of himself but of Jonah’s own rejection of God! In Jonah 1:3 we read this startling sentence: “Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (emphasis mine). The prophet’s rejection of both the will of God (to go to Ninevah to preach against their sins) as well as the presence of God led quickly to his command to the sailors on the ship he was on to “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea” (Jonah 1:12).
In the end, after he grudgingly went to Nineveh and preached a loveless message (“Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” 3:4) the people repented. And the prophet rejected their repentance! Like Elijah before him, he asked God to murder him rather than have to live with a repentant Nineveh and in the presence of God (Jonah 4:3).
Rejection is a two-way street (although both ways end up in isolation and despair).
Whether it is received or delivered, rejection is devastating. It produces a sense of isolation and a pool of darkness that is almost palpable. So powerful is it that it Luke says of Jesus in the garden,
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44).
The bad news is there is not one among us who can complete his/her journey in life without experiencing rejection. That means we’re all headed to isolation, darkness, and despair. And if Jesus Christ couldn’t avert it and it nearly killed him prematurely…what hope is there for me/us?
Two things Jesus said which were both related to life after His resurrection are of great comfort and encouragement. The first He said just prior to His arrest. As He was prepping the apostles for the events of the next few days He told them that they would be sorrowful over what was about to happen. Yet He made this promise that held true for them and still holds true for us:
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22).
Then in a post-resurrection appearance, He made this promise: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Never again must we be immersed in the soul-destroying abyss of isolation and darkness. Once His, no one can steal our joy and we will never ever be alone again.
As the old hymn goes,
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
I am not alone!