The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…” So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Genesis 2:18, 21–23
There is little that is so difficult for a person to bear as loneliness. Prisoners held in solitary confinement have told of rejoicing to see even a spider – at least it is something alive. God created us to be communal beings. Yet our modern world is frighteningly devoid of relationships. In many areas of life, technological progress has resulted in the deterioration of community. Increasingly, technology has made people seem unnecessary.
As the elderly are placed into retirement communities or personal-care homes, as factory workers are replaced by hi-tech robotics, as young men and women search in vain for meaningful employment, they fall into cycles of hopelessness. Some depend on the help of therapists or psychologists, and others seek avenues of escape such as alcohol, drugs, or suicide. Cut off from God and each other, thousands of people lead lives of quiet desperation.
To live in isolation, whether outwardly or inwardly, can lead to despair. Thomas Merton writes:
Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost…
Despair is the ultimate development of a pride so great and so stiff-necked that it selects the absolute misery of damnation rather than accept happiness from the hands of God and thereby acknowledge that he is above us and that we are not capable of fulfilling our destiny ourselves.
But a man who is truly humble cannot despair, because in a humble man there is no longer any such thing as self-pity.1
We see here that pride is a curse that leads to death. Humility, however, leads to love. Love is the greatest gift given to humankind; it is our true calling. It is the “yes” to life, the “yes” to community. Love alone fulfills the longing of our innermost being.
God created us to live with and for others.
God has planted in each of us an instinctive longing to achieve a closer likeness to him, a longing that urges us toward love, community, and unity. In his last prayer, Jesus points out the importance of this longing: “May they all be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20–21 NEB).
No one can truly live without love: it is God’s will for every person to be the “thou” for every other. Every person is called to love and help those around him on God’s behalf (Gen. 4:8–10).
God wants us to find community with one another and to help one another in love. And there is no doubt that when we meet our brother’s or sister’s inmost heart, we can help them, for “our” help is given by God himself. As John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). Our lives are fulfilled only when love is kindled, proved, and brought to fruition.
Jesus tells us that the two most important commandments are to love God with our whole heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And these two commandments cannot be separated: love to God must always mean love to one’s neighbor. We cannot find a relationship with God if we disregard others (1 John 4:19–21). Our way to God must be through our brothers and sisters, and in marriage, through our spouse.
If we are filled with God’s love, we can never be lonely or withdrawn for long; we will always find someone to reach out to. God and our neighbor will always be near us. All we need to do is find them. Recently a young man in my community shared with me his newly discovered joy in reaching out to others. Sean had been living in Baltimore doing volunteer work building homes for the disadvantaged. He thought that this would be enough. However, when he came home at the end of the day he didn’t know what to do:
I found myself wasting away in front of the television. My zest for life was rapidly diminishing. Then someone told me about an evening tutoring program for inner-city children. They were desperately looking for help. So I decided to check it out. Now I help out every night. I can’t believe how my whole perspective on life has changed. I never knew before how much I needed to love these children.
When we suffer from loneliness, it is often simply because our focus is on ourselves; we desire to be loved rather than to give love. Real happiness comes from giving love to others. We need to seek community of love with our neighbor again and again, and in this seeking we must each become a helper, a brother or a sister. Let us ask God to free our choked-up hearts for this love, knowing that we can find it only in the humility of the cross.
Every person can be an instrument of God’s love.
In the story of the creation of Adam and Eve it is clear that man and woman were created to help, to support, to complement each other. What a joy it must have been for God to bring woman to man, and man to woman! Because we are all made in the image of God, in his likeness, we can all find each other in joy and love, whether we are married or not.
By bringing Eve to Adam, God shows all humans their true calling – to be helpers who reveal his love to the world. And by bringing us his son, Jesus, he shows us that he will never leave us lonely or without help. Jesus himself said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” He promises us that “the man who has received my commandments and obeys them – he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father; and I will love him and disclose myself to him” (John 14:18–21 NEB).
Who can understand the depth of these words and the hope they bring to our troubled world? The loneliest, most discouraged, disillusioned people may be assured that God will never forsake them. Even if they are unable to find human friendship, they will never be alone as long as they hold on to God.
God brought Adam and Eve together to heal their loneliness and to set them free from their one-sidedness, and he has the same plan for every man and woman he brings together in marriage. Yet marriage in itself cannot bring wholeness. Unless we abide in Christ, we will not bear good fruit. When we love him who alone is our support, our hope, and our life, we can be secure in knowing and loving one another. But if we isolate ourselves from Christ, nothing will go well. He alone holds everything together and gives us access to God and to others (Col. 1:17–20).
God is the source and the object of true love.
Marriage is not the highest goal of life. God’s image is reflected most brightly and completely where there is love first for him and then for our brothers and sisters. In a true Christian marriage, then, the husband will lead his wife and children not to himself, but to God. In the same way, a wife will support her husband as a helper, and together they will raise their children to honor them as father and mother, and to love God as their creator.
To be a helper to another on God’s behalf is not just an obligation, but a gift. How different our relationships would be if we rediscovered this! We live in a time when fear and mistrust grip us everywhere we go. Where is love, the love that builds community and the church?
There are two kinds of love. One is turned selflessly toward others and their well-being. The other is possessive and limited to the ego. Augustine says, “Love is the self of the soul, the hand of the soul. When it holds one thing, it cannot hold something else. If it is to hold what one gives it, it has to put down what it is holding.”2 God’s love desires nothing. It gives and sacrifices itself, for this is its joy.
Love always has its roots in God. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). May God grant that the power of his love grips us anew. It will lead us to others, to share our lives with them. More than that, it will lead us to the kingdom. Love is the secret of God’s coming kingdom.
1. The Thomas Merton quote is from New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 180.
2. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, 75.7.