Friday, May 24, 2013

Loneliness and Creation

I will hazard a guess that most people are aware of the deleterious effects of being a "Lone Ranger" Christian. In other words, you can't "do Christianity" on your own and expect to succeed. You need others. But did you know that living a life of relational isolation may be severely detrimental to your physical health?

In the latest edition of The New Republic, essayist Judith Shulevitz discusses "The Lethality of Loneliness" and documents the extensive research into the science of loneliness. The results may or may not be surprising, depending on how you view the world. Her thesis is that loneliness—or, a lack of relational intimacy—is very dangerous for your health. Among the research, Shulevitz noted that "emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking." That, as they say, is serious business. But when you stop and think about it, the conclusion makes sense.

As always, we can trace the idea's genesis to, well, Genesis. One of the first things God says after delivering the creation mandate to Adam is that "[i]t is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). And so he formed the woman out of the man, so that they could again become one flesh.

You need people—formed in the image of God—who know you intimately. When God put Adam and Eve together, "they were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). God created us to commune intimately with him and with others. This means we were created for close community. So it is not surprising that loneliness—a rebellion against the created order—comes with serious side effects, both spiritual and physical.

But sin, in all its wily ways, has distorted this reality. We are prone to ardent individualism in our culture, and we try to justify our attempts to distance ourselves from true community. Thankfully, we have a perfect example of one who knows us intimately and loves us all the same. Taking the example of Christ, we can see others "naked," as it were, and still love them. We can be "naked" in front of others and unashamed, thanks to the covering of the blood of Christ. Most importantly, though, we can be naked in front of God and be assured that he loves us just as he loves his son.

I am not surprised that this study rings true, given what we see in scripture. That's usually how it goes. God has created us for community, and he has created our bodies to respond to its absence—just like we respond to an absence of food or water. It hastens our demise. So, drink to your health—with others.

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