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Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Being alone is not an easy thing. Despite the fact that the world population has climbed in excess of 6 billion, people complain that they feel lonely. They will search anywhere for friends: in bars, at work, at the grocery store, at the day care. Human beings are created with a need to connect. Without friends, we can be pretty miserable. As the classic hymn goes, “I don’t know a thing in this whole, wide world that’s worse than being alone.”

This past week the Washington Post reported on a new study revealing a link between Alzheimer’s disease and loneliness. Elderly people with few or no friends are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people who reported that they are not lonely, the study shows. This will be helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s, but it’s not news that being alone can wreck your health. Ten years ago the World Health Organization suggested that solitude affecting millions of people was one of the most serious and immediate public health concerns.

Columnist Gary Kawamura believes that the iPod phenomenon is the result of a fear of being alone. People are uncomfortable with silence. So many young people are coping by living to a steady soundtrack that flows from a pair of ear buds plugged into their heads. But music is a poor substitute for a friend. The fact that people have been killed by walking into traffic while listening to their iPods attests to this.

Christ recognized our need for companionship. Mark told us he appointed twelve apostles “so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (3:14, emphasis added). They weren’t just the couriers of his message. These men were his friends. The Lord also frequented the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom he “loved” (Jn. 11:5).

God could have conceived of a gospel that saves us individually. But instead he adds believers to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). Among other things, the Scriptures define this institution as a family (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:5). Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that God thought of everything when it came to saving our souls. Not only did he conceive of a way to make us righteous through the blood of his Son, Jesus, but he also met our need for companionship by creating the church.

Churches everywhere need to be battling loneliness by reaching out to those who have been rejected by society and embracing those who have been wounded by isolation. Too often, Christians who have been at one congregation for a long time form cliques. There’s nothing wrong with having close friends, but we should never neglect the rest of our spiritual family. Let loneliness have its place in the world. Love and brotherhood should keep it out of the church.