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We’ve all had moments when we ran and hid, tears stinging in our eyes as we either said or received angry words, words that should never have been spoken. We’ve all had moments of anger towards those we love, when we felt our blood pressure rising and couldn’t imagine the person in front of us as capable of goodness or beauty. We’ve all had these moments, and when they pile up we become something we were never meant to be. We become lonely.
Isolation and our longings to connect would go on to saturate thoughtful music and film, beginning with Ordinary People, and continuing on with Fight Club, Garden State, Lost in Translation, and Goodwill Hunting.
Loneliness and isolation are woven into the fabric of every cultural demographic worldwide. It’s increasingly said that “all poverty is relational”, which means that when people are stuck in cycles of oppression and want, there’s a lack of healthy relationships upstream from those presenting problems. Dealing with relational poverty is increasingly seen as the first step in dealing with material poverty. But the wealthy aren’t immune from loneliness. In The Price of Privilege, we read that wealthy people, “in spite of their economic and social advantages, experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of group of children in this country”. The overwhelming evidence is that whether you’re shopping at Goodwill or wearing Gucci, odds are that you’ll face intimacy challenges. There are two good reasons for this, along with the good news that the gospel provides a way forward in our intimacy dilemma:
1. We’re made for intimacy. If the first two chapters of Genesis are our reference point for how humanity is intended to live, then we’re clearly made for intimacy. “It is not good” says God, “the man (humankind) should be alone”, after which God creates another person and we find this glorious phrase, “naked and not ashamed” in the text, a word which means that this first couple knew each other perfectly, with nothing hidden, and were able to love each other in the knowing. God is telling us something significant here about the longings of the human heart, telling us that in distinction to the animal kingdom, we’re made for more than procreation and copulation. We’re made for intimacy, and this is as it should be because we’re made in God’s image, and God isn’t a one, but a three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, living in perfect fellowship, community, and union.
It is, in other words, “in our nature” to seek intimacy, to be fully known, and to fully know. It’s why we risk sharing our hearts with others, as we peel back layers to share our deepest selves, or listen intently as another unveils in order to be known. It’s why we have parties and spend time with the neighbors. It’s why we smile when we see an old couple holding hands and think to ourselves, “this is as it should be”. Maybe the Beatles were right; maybe love is in fact, “all you need”.
2. Anti-Intimacy is in our nature. Though love might be all we need, love isn’t “all we have”, because there’s something in us that runs from intimacy too. We discover this in Genesis as well, where we see that it’s in our nature to make anti-intimacy choices. First, we reject intimacy with God by saying in essence, “I don’t care about your longings for me. I want to do what I want to do”, and choose paths of our own making rather than those of the one who loves us perfectly and longs for us to be whole. Then, having chosen autonomy from God rather than intimacy, everything else unravels. We suddenly see the world through a different lens, and shame becomes part of our being. We feel the stinging pain of our own vulnerability, our loss, our hurt – and decide that we don’t want others to see that, so we cover our shame. In the Genesis garden we covered it with leaves. Today we cover it with other things: fancy clothes, fancy cars, plastic surgery, schedules so packed that we’ve no time to share or listen to those we love, machismo, hyper-sexualization; it’s a long list but in the end we see that there’s a whole tool kit enabling us to hide from each other. And we’re experts at using it.
What’s more, we’re afraid. Adam tells God that he heard God’s voice and was afraid, so he ran and hid. I’m afraid of rejection, afraid of conflict, afraid of truth telling because at various times when I’ve gone down these roads, things haven’t turned out well – I’ve been hurt, and so I crawl into my shell – choose safe illusion over naked reality. “Naked’s too risky” is what we tell ourselves as we run from each other, not literally usually, but metaphorically through the use of words that paint a thin veneer of propriety over reality. The result is loneliness, as we know from movies, and the lives of others and our own lives as well.
This is our dilemma. We’re made for intimacy and long for it, but there’s something in us that wants to run and hide. The results are stale marriages, stalemate relationships between children and parents, millions settling for the pseudo-intimacy of porn or sexual addiction, and an ache in our hearts which, try as we might, we cannot fully numb.
3. There’s an isolation antidote – The gospel is good news because it makes a way for intimacy. God pursued Adam in the garden and said in essence, “you’ll never be able to cover your shame – but I’ll deal with your shame” and God killed an animal and made coverings for Adam and Eve. That act was a seminal picture of what God would do in Christ when, naked on the cross, he absorbed our dysfunction and shame, our sin and guilt. This reality enables us to know that we’re fully loved and accepted, in spite of our failures. There is ONE who is inexorably for us, more even than we’re for ourselves. Learning to actually believe this isn’t some theoretical theological exercise; it’s what enables our own transparency and intimacy.
What’s more, this Jesus not only forgives and loves, he transforms, so that little by little, we find ourselves better able to choose truth telling, confession, forgiveness, sacrifice, and vulnerability. All the ingredients of intimacy become ours in fuller measure because the Master of Intimacy lives with us, and in us, and is committed to teaching us his ways. “Perfect love” we’re told, “casts out fear” because fear involves judgement, but the one who is our judge says, “you’re known – and forgiven”. If I can believe this, receive this, then I can learn healthy patterns of intimacy, because I know that, come what may in this world, there is One who loves me completely, with whom I can be naked and not ashamed. If I have this as my starting point, I’m on the right road. If I miss this, I miss a lot.