The first thing “not good” in creation (presumably excepting the snakes) was a human being alone.
This should probably not be surprising, from a Christian perspective. After all, humans were made in the image of a God who is triune, always in communion. We are most fully ourselves not by ourselves but in relation to another.
Gen. 2:18-24 is often read at weddings, but the story is bigger than about marriage alone. It’s about human nature. God’s first solution to the problem of the “party of one” is to form some animals. But no Dachshund, however charming, is enough. True connection required two key things: an element of “sameness,” of mutuality, of flesh and bone recognizing its own likeness; and an element of “difference,” not mere duplication but a revelatory, correspondent otherness.
With these two crucial elements in place, the human is no longer alone.
But then comes the Fall, the turn away from God and life. The fellowship is broken. Mutuality turns to power-games. Difference devolves from revelation to fear. Shame scatters people into hiding, concealing flaws and vulnerabilities. Threat emerges with the sense that interests have diverged, that blaming one may save the other from responsibility. The human is alone again.
This past year, Britain made headlines when it appointed its first “minister of loneliness.” Research has uncovered a significant link between loneliness and the risk of common health problems like heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
Studies suggest persistent loneliness may have a greater negative effect on lifespan than a significant smoking habit. According to a 2018 study by health insurer Cigna, nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely, and only half have a meaningful in-person social interaction on a daily basis.
Why are we so lonely? The causes are many. Marriage is delayed, and the divorce rate is high. Increased mobility means we are less likely to maintain long-term relationships. We work long hours. The combination of garage-door remotes and online TV streaming means we can get inside our single-family dwellings and spend the entire night there without setting foot in our own neighborhoods.
Christians claim that Jesus came to break the curse, to reverse the effects of the Fall on our nature and our world. This is what we call “the good news.”
But what part of the news strikes us as best may depend in part on our situation. Good news if you are dying is life after death. Good news if you are guilty is forgiveness. Good news if you are lost is someone to find you. Good news if you are starving is one who offers bread.
So what is the good news to a generation drowning in loneliness?
This may be one of the most important questions facing the church today. It’s a question of evangelism, how the story of Jesus is proclaimed in a way that reveals its redemptive power. It’s a question of mission, what it looks like to participate with God in the healing of creation.
Perhaps the message starts like this: here among the people of Jesus, there’s no need to lie or Photoshop or live an Instagram-perfect life. You can come out of hiding, you can afford to be seen as you really are.
Here in the church you can quit the game of fearful blame-shifting and practice seeking the interests of others as they practice seeking yours.
Here in binding yourself to Jesus, you can be bound to others committed to sticking together for better or worse, in sickness and health.
Here in Jesus you’ll have a Companion who loves you completely and will never fail or disappoint you, even when the rest of us inevitably do.
Perhaps somewhere in this story, there might be some truly good news.
Meghan Larissa Good is teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and author of The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today, coming in October from Herald Press.