Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
The problem of aloneness can be a serious one. But it is very much unlike the problem of loneliness. Loneliness, psychologists tell us, is a serious and growing problem. One of the results of our modern, mechanized, technological society is loneliness. One of the most serious consequences of the breakdown of marriage and family life in our day is loneliness. Loneliness is worse than physical sickness. People who are lonely say that they would rather face any other problem, even death, than the problem of loneliness.
You may be lonely. Perhaps you are lonely because you’ve lost a husband or a wife, a parent or a child, or a dear friend in death. Perhaps you’re lonely because you are separated in marriage, or divorced. Perhaps you’re lonely because you have no close friend to whom you can talk and in whom you can confide. Or perhaps you’re lonely because friends that you have had and that you trusted have turned against you. Perhaps as young people you have had to stand up for your convictions, and this has alienated you from your peers, leaving you with a sense of loneliness. Perhaps your loneliness causes you to weep into the dark hours of the night. Perhaps your loneliness has even caused you to contemplate suicide.
In John 16:32 Jesus deals with the problem of loneliness. He says to His disciples there, “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” Jesus was going to be left alone. His disciples were going to be scattered. Yet, Jesus teaches here, He would not be alone, because the Father would be with Him.
The first time the word “alone” is used by Jesus in John 16:32, it is used in a physical or geographical sense. “You will leave me alone,” Jesus says. This is the kind of aloneness that results when everyone around you has left. It’s the kind of aloneness caused by physical isolation. It is one thing to be alone. It is one thing to be alone because your loved one has died, or because friends have left you, or because you find yourself in a strange place where there is no one around you know or to whom you can speak. That’s one thing.
But the second time Jesus uses the word “alone” here, something else comes into view. He says, “I am alone, YET I am not alone. Although in one sense of the word I am alone, in another, more important sense of the word, I will not be alone.” The disciples will physically leave Jesus alone, and He will be surrounded by people who are His enemies. But He will not be lonely. Alone, but not lonely. They are two different things. Even in the hour of betrayal, when all turn against Him and everything falls away from Him, even when He is left alone, He will not be lonely. He will not be lonely in the Garden of Gethsemane. He will not be lonely in Pilate’s judgment hall. He will not be lonely when He is victimized by His captors. He will not be lonely as He carries the cross on His bleeding back to Calvary. He will not be lonely when He hangs there on that cross. Why? “Because the Father is with me.”
There are at least four different causes of aloneness. First, there is aloneness caused by desertion. Jesus was left alone because the disciples deserted Him.Matthew 26:56 tells us, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” This was also the experience of the apostle Paul. He writes in II Timothy 1:15, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” In II Timothy 4:10the Apostle says that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” We have all experienced the desertion of friends and family. We know by experience this kind of aloneness.
A second cause of aloneness is necessary separation. Perhaps this is the separation from loved ones because it becomes necessary to move to a different part of the country, or even of the world. Christian school teachers, ministers, and missionaries often experience this. Or perhaps it’s the separation of a young man from his family because he must go off somewhere to fight for his country. Or perhaps the separation is the permanent separation between loved ones caused by death. Think, once, of the aloneness of Joseph, sold as a slave into Egypt, separated from his home and family. Think of the aloneness of the widow and the widower, or of parents bereft of a child.
A third cause of aloneness is opposition. Often the most intense sense of isolation is experienced when one is surrounded by enemies. Then we are very alone. This was the sense of aloneness that Elijah felt: “And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” This was the aloneness that Job felt too, and that he gives expression to in Job 19:13-19. There he speaks of being estranged from his own brethren, forgotten by his most familiar friends; an alien to the members of his own household, so that his breath was strange even to his wife, and the children and servants despised him.
A fourth cause of aloneness is misunderstanding. Because of misunderstanding and misapprehension, we may be left alone. Our best friends misunderstand us, doubt the sincerity of our motives, our actions, or our words, and so turn against us and betray us. They simply have taken us up wrongly, or deliberately twisted things. We have all had this, I’m sure.
Although the child of God may be alone, he ought never to be lonely: “. . . and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” We need not be lonely because, in the deepest sense of the word, we are not alone; the Father is with us! Above and beyond all other relationships, Jesus had His attention focused on His relationship to His Father. He was constantly in the presence of His Father, and therefore He was never really alone.
The Psalmist shares this conviction in Psalm 139. This psalm praises the omnipresence of God. The Psalmist perceived that, no matter to what place in the world he would go, no matter how he might isolate himself from every human being, yet he would not be alone. God would be there.
This is certainly the testimony of all of Scripture. The word of God in Hebrews 13:5 is, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” In II Corinthians 4:9 the apostle Paul speaks of being “. . . persecuted, but not forsaken.” The Psalmist expresses his conviction in Psalm 27:10 that “When my father and my mother forsake me; then the Lord will take me up.” And we have the great promise of Christ Himself in Matthew 28:20, at the time of His ascension into heaven: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the World.” Christ is with us, with us always, with us even to the end of the world. The great privilege of the Christian is that although we might be left all alone, we are not lonely. Christ Himself is always there. Although we are alone, the loneliness is swept away by an ever present God and His Son Jesus Christ.
As believers we ought to take a special interest in those members of the congregation who are alone and who are faced with loneliness. We ought to write them or send them a card, we ought to stop and visit with them, or have them over for a meal and for fellowship. James says in James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Part of the “affliction” of the widows and orphans is the affliction of loneliness. We ought to do what we can to assist them in this affliction.
But the fact is that you can’t do anything ultimately for the lonely person that will cover his loneliness 24 hours a day. For a little while you can assuage his loneliness. But you can’t ultimately take it away. Only God can do that. The lonely person must be pointed to God and to Christ for the solution to his loneliness. The Lord says in Jeremiah 49:11, “Leave thy fatherless children (to me), I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me.”
Only God can dispel our loneliness. And this is our hope. Even though every meaningful relation: ship in life is dissolved, the Lord is still with us. We have a God Who will see us through, Who will stand by our side, Who will dissipate our loneliness. We will not be alone even at the end, when we face our last great enemy, death: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4).
Though we might be alone, we shall never be lonely.