This article was originally published by IntersectProject: ORIGINAL POST
By Jonathan Darville
We are a lonely generation. It has been well documented in recent years that loneliness is on the rise and poses a significant threat to our spiritual and physical well-being. Two of the more publicized comments have come from Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General, and Douglas Nemecek, Cigna’s Chief Medical Officer of behavioral health.
Murthy, in a now well-known cover story for the Harvard Business Review, characterized loneliness as a “growing health epidemic,” and said that despite living in “the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization…rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s.” Nemecek, commenting on the results from a Cigna loneliness survey, said, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.” Regardless of whether rates of loneliness have or have not doubled since the 1980’s, statistically, loneliness is a widespread issue in our country.
Certainly, a contributing factor is that we are now spending more time alone than at any previous point in our nation’s history. We are bowling, scrolling, traveling and even worshipping alone. Loneliness, however, is not synonymous with being alone. The spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence do not necessarily evoke feelings of loneliness, and we can be surrounded by people and still feel desperately lonely. Rather, loneliness is the sorrow that results from undesired isolation and/or rejection. Loneliness is to be without proper companion(s).
Several things can cause loneliness (illness, loss, divorce, etc.) but whatever the cause, the ensuing sadness is an unmistakable sign that we were made for relationships of love, joy and acceptance. Indeed, it is not good for people to remain alone (Genesis 2:18).
In this post, I would like to explore how God’s omnipresence provides Christians with a unique spiritual resource to combat loneliness.
Omnipresence in Review
God simultaneously fills and transcends every place. Heaven and earth can no more contain God than a submerged bucket can contain the ocean. He is distinct from His creation. He is a higher and infinite order of being. He “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). And yet, He is omnipresent within His creation. That is, God is fully present everywhere within time and space—at the farthest edges of the universe and in the very room in which you sit. As Saint Augustine said, “[God is] present entirely everywhere at once.” In other words, there is no place where God is not. Mark Jones illustrates this well: “God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” Again, omnipresence means that God is “everywhere at once.”
And, of course, He is not present as a mere bystander or disinterested observer; He is present everywhere as the Sovereign Lord over time and space and matter. God upholds the universe in being, gives life to every creature, and directs even the tiniest details of history. In this way, God is generally present to everyone: “In Him we [all] live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
But, He is uniquely present with believers by the indwelling of His Spirit and through the means of grace. That is, He is not “present everywhere in exactly the same manner.” Our experience of, and access to, God’s presence differs in certain respects depending on where we are (heaven, earth, hell); who we are (believer, unbeliever); when we live (under the old covenant, under the new covenant); what we are doing (playing, praying, sinning); and what God is doing (blessing, cursing, healing).
As believers, in addition to being beneficiaries of God’s general presence and common grace, we are beneficiaries of God’s special presence and saving grace. That is, because of our Spirit-wrought union with Christ, God is present to us in a new way. As Paul writes, “we who were once alienated have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). We have not been spatially, but relationally brought near to God—so much so that Jesus can say in John 14:23, “Anyone who loves Me…My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them.” Which they do by sending the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead to live in us” (Romans 8:11). In other words, in Him we live and move and have our new being.
This means that even if the whole world rejects us or we are unavoidably isolated from everyone we love, in Christ we are fully accepted and never alone. As King David said,
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7)
For those battling loneliness, this can make all the difference. For instance, as a younger man, my wife’s grandfather went through a self-proclaimed existential crisis. He writes, “I was tired of the struggle that I was going through…I said to the Lord ‘I am through with this life’…I’m ready to end it all….’ Then I raised my hand and looked at it intending to count the good friends I had in this world. I thought, ‘Lord, I don’t have one good friend in this world.’ Then it happened. I was in the presence of an intense light and changed atmosphere…I heard a voice that said, ‘Walt, Walt, here is your friend.’ And at the same time I saw a vision of Christ on the cross and without thinking…I threw myself on the floor face down…It was so personal, it made me sense how much He loves each one of us.”
Because of the cross, Walt and all of us who put our faith in Christ are given the right to be called children and friends of God (John 1:12; John 15:15): “Our friendship with God [is] restored by the death of His son” (Romans 5:10, NLT). Amazingly, in Christ, God counts us amongst His friends. Now, we are never without a proper companion. God, who as Tim Keller says, “sees us to the bottom, but loves us to the skies,” promises to always be with us and never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). In other words, the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) who is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18) is “our ever-present help” (Psalm 46:1) in times of loneliness.
God promises that if we draw near to Him that He will draw near to us (James 4:8). How does one draw near to God? In our loneliness, we can draw near and commune with God through:
- The Word:
One of my favorite interactions in The Chronicles of Narnia is when Lucy says, “Oh, Aslan…it was kind of you to come.” To which Aslan responds, “I have been here all the time…you have just made me visible.” Do you know what Lucy was doing that made Aslan visible? Reading a book. Analogously, reading or listening to the Bible is a means by which the presence of God becomes “visible” to our hearts. It is through the Word that God addresses us in conversation and we become aware of His presence.
Joe Rigney writes, “If the living God is here and now confronting us with His presence, then prayer is precisely the point where we acknowledge that presence.” Prayer, in part, is how we address God in conversation. It is another means by which we experience “awe and intimacy” with God: “Here is what I want you to do: find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (Matthew 6:6, The Message).
Martin Luther said that, “My heart which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” Worship music also has the ability usher our lonely hearts into the sweetness of God’s presence.
Through dwelling in the word, abiding in prayer, and living in song we cultivate a sense of the nearness of God and are given strength to endure the inevitable seasons of loneliness that come from living in a fallen world. Of course, if we can, we must avail ourselves of the other remedies God has provided for loneliness, including the church, family, counseling, and medical attention.
However, we sometimes endure seasons when we cannot avail ourselves of these other remedies. For instance, I have been chronically ill for 13 years and have had numerous seasons of unavoidable isolation due to my condition. My own greatest consolation in these seasons of difficulty has been the constant companionship of that one truest friend—Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, the single greatest antidote to loneliness is the love of God.
So, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
 In Atheism, “God” is everywhere absent – as He does not exist. Therefore, He cannot actually help us when we are lonely. In Pantheism, “god” is everywhere but as an impersonal spirit. Consequently, “god” is of no practical benefit when we are in need of a friend. In Polytheism, the gods were not only bound by space and time but, if they were in the vicinity when you were feeling sad and lonely, it is likely that they were the cause of your misery. In Deism, God transcends space and time but is personally uninvolved and uninterested in what goes on within space and time. Therefore, He is unavailable to us in our times of need.
 As the many in the early church said, God “contains all things and He alone is uncontained.”
 Herman Bavinck writes, “Scripture…refers to God’s going, coming, walking, and coming down. It employs human language, the kind of language to which we too are bound…It is therefore a good thing in connection with each attribute to remind ourselves that we are speaking of God in human terms.”