At Work & Theology 101

Why the ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ Threatens Human Flourishing

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According to news headlines, there’s a growing “loneliness epidemic” in the West. Jeremy Linneman writes that as a society we’ve turned inwards in our search for meaning and wrongly assumed that connecting on Facebook can fill our need for community:

As disenchanted individuals searching for our true selves in all the wrong places, we must remember we aren’t merely individuals in need of autonomy and self-esteem. We are persons-in-community wired for deep relational connection.

But because we are becoming so isolated as a society, the increasing sense of loneliness is literally killing us.

As Linneman notes, not only is loneliness on the rise but other forms of relational brokenness are cropping up everywhere:

When we ponder the influence of loneliness on the Western church, we can make sense of several other pressing challenges—the lack of truly diverse congregations and ministries, the moral and relational failures of many leaders, and so on. Many failures of leadership are first failures of relationship, accountability, and shared authority.

Since the fall, we’ve experienced relational brokenness in all our relationships: with God, one another, and with creation. We must go back to the beginning to remember our true design and understand why relationships are central to our mission.

We Are Relational as God Is Relational

Near the end of the sixth day of the creation story we read, “Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26).

The phrase, “Let us make man in our image” reveals a lot about our own nature and about the nature of God.

First and foremost, this phrase means we were made to be relational beings. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity recognizes that God is one God, co-existing in three distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is clearly taught in the scriptures and has been recognized by the church since the second century. These three persons of the Trinity are forever in perfect relationship with each other. There has always been and always will be absolute love, joy, and peace within the Godhead.

The very essence of God is relational, and that essential quality has been imprinted on us as humans. We were made to be in relationship with the creator and with the rest of his creation.

Professor Darrell Johnson notes in his book Experiencing the Trinity,

At the center of the universe is a relationship. This is the most fundamental truth I know. At the center of the universe is a community. It is out of that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed. And it is for that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed!

Therefore, one of the things that “made in the image of God” means is that man was made to be in relationship.

This is at the very heart of the gospel. The universe in which we live was created by a good and gracious heavenly Father who filled it with good things and gave us moral laws by which to structure our lives.

But the chief goal and aim of life is neither to enjoy the good gifts, nor obey the laws, but to know and be known by the Creator. This loving relationship between man and God is the way things are supposed to be.

Our purpose, fulfillment, delight, and life itself, all flow from this relationship with our Creator.

Relationships Are Integral to the Mission of God’s People

While God created us to be in relationship with him, he also created us to be in relationship with one another (Matt. 22:36-40).

Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making that God created a world “designed for the flourishing of exquisitely relational creatures, male and female, who themselves are very good because they bear the image of a relational God.”

While we are all made in the image of God, we are also uniquely made. This is not an accident. It is part of God’s plan for us and his creation.

While our culture stresses the importance of independence, the Bible teaches interdependence (Rom. 12:4-5) and community (Heb. 10:25).

In fact, scripture calls us to connectedness from the very beginning. We as individuals are called to play a part in the biblical narrative, but for the most part we do our work in the context of community.

Economists call this idea comparative advantage; it is using the talents and gifts God has given you to do the things you are best at doing. Comparative advantage is the glue that holds communities together.

As we each do what we are best at doing, we all add to the common good. We are to fulfill our call to be good stewards in community and in connection with one another. This is what God intended from the beginning.

Comparative advantage brings about flourishing. This is why flourishing only takes place in community.

It is through Christ’s redemption that we are restored to a right relationship with our heavenly Father. That in turn allows Christians to seek the fullness of life God intended and to be good stewards in community.

When we do this, we bring a level of flourishing to our families and communities through our work, which reflects the glory of God to a lonely world desperately searching for something greater than itself.

Editor’s note: Read more about God’s redemption plan for relationships in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

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