“Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” Psalms 73: 25-26
In Psalm 73, the psalmist suggests that God alone is the remedy to our loneliness as “the strength of our heart and our portion forever”- no-one or nothing can fill the yearning for completeness that God has set in our hearts to lead us into communion with Him. According to the psalmist, the absence of a relationship with God causes the “flesh and the heart” to “fail”.
Loneliness is an experience of which we have a number of examples in the bible. Remember Adam? In Genesis 2:18, “God said it is not good that man should be alone”. From God’s own word we find that loneliness is not biblically ordained. God’s remedy to Adam’s solitude was to provide a help meet in the form of Eve. This first couple went on to unite in the first ever marriage - two to becoming one flesh.
We also have depictions of Christ both seeking time alone from the disciples and crowds to pray and suffering on the cross as a “sin offering” in a state of agony and deep despair because He was separated from God. The references above suggest that from a biblical perspective loneliness can either be caused by separation from God or from our fellow man. God has provided Himself to meet our need for spiritual communion, and relationships with significant others, such as a husband, wife, family or friends, to meet our need for companionship.
The state of aloneness however, can be divided into 2 distinctly different groups: 1) solitude and 2) loneliness. What’s the difference one may ask?
Loneliness defined is an unpleasant experience associated with a feeling of emptiness, whereas solitude is a state of isolation/lack of contact with people. In other words one is a state of mind and one is a state of the body.
As a state of mind, loneliness can lead to depression. Remember Elijah on the run from Jezebel as he feared for his life? His experience caused him to enter into a state of panic which led him to temporarily forget the awesome power of God (see 1 Kings 19: 2-4). If Elijah did not have a close relationship with God, I dare say he would have either been killed either as a result of his own fear, or by Jezebel in an act of revenge. Later in verses 5-8 we discover how tenderly the Lord cares for those who love Him - in Elijah’s case God sent an angel to nourish and nurse him back to health and strength.
By contrast we see the story of Saul’s decline into loneliness and desperation which is worsened as a result of being separated from God. In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, we find Saul devoid of a relationship with God, seeking to ameliorate his fear of defeat at the hands of the Philistines, by consulting with a witch at Endor. The description of Saul’s actions highlights the destructive nature of sin. Instead of being repentant and contrite whilst seeking to understand why God was not responding to his inquiries, Saul’s pride led him to seek his own counterfeit solution which ultimately led to his death. Saul’s end is a lesson to us that the only sure source of our strength and salvation is God - anything else will lead to physical and spiritual death.
Solitude as a state is not necessarily detrimental, in fact the reference above to Christ’s need to withdraw from his disciples and the crowds that constantly followed him in order to pray, suggests that, however important companionship is, we all need time to be alone, this is essential to facilitate a healthy prayer life and develop a relationship with God.
From a biblical perspective, we find that the main difference between the “loneliness” and “solitude”, is the presence or absence of God in our lives. In one state we are drawn closer to Him and the other, if left unchecked, we are drawn away. In each case, it is “us” and not God who have moved and as He tells us in Isaiah 59:1-2:
“Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that He cannot hear; But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear”.
The most effective remedy for both loneliness and solitude is found in James 4:8 who tells us to “draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you”.