Recovering Friendship

It was barely a day and I was already a mess. Olga left last week to head to Calvin College for the annual Calvin Worship Symposium. She was excited to go and we were both eager to see what she would learn at the conference. I figured I would be fine. There was food in the fridge, movies to be watched, books to be read, and plenty of good work to be done. I had our cat, Julian, for company. Even if I obeyed my wife’s suggestion not to work 20 hours a day while she was gone, I saw no reason to think that I’d be anything less than fine.

I wasn’t.

The first 12 hours were spent sad and mopey. I was honestly a bit angry with myself. I felt weak and pathetic, which only made the loneliness worse.

“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Gen 2:18

It is not good for the man to be alone.

This is the first recorded instance in the whole of the Bible of something being said to be ‘not good.’ So far in God’s creation, it has been good, good, good, very good. Then suddenly, it is not good for man to be alone.

Loneliness is something that all of us face, married or single, young or old, sitting at home or surrounded by large groups of people. As I looked my own loneliness in the face, this passage continued to stand out to me. It is not good for the man to be alone. I was only going to be away from Olga for a few days, but I knew many people in our congregation and people connected through friends and family who face a different kind of loneliness on a day-to-day basis. I could simply wait it out until Olga returned, but what does Genesis 2:18 mean for the widow or widower, the single person, the shut-in?

The immediate context of Genesis 2:18 offers one response. Adam (as he would later be named) was alone, and God created for him a partner, Eve. The first response to the lonely man is a wife for a partner. God’s first response is marriage. This was God’s gift to Adam and Eve – each other.

I believe marriage is a beautiful and wonderful gift from God. I think that God’s response has not ceased to be marriage. Yet, I take Paul seriously when he talks about the benefits of single life for service to God (1 Corinthians 7). Singleness is not less than marriage. This caused me to wonder if marriage was the full response. Is marriage the only cure for loneliness for my friends, my family, or myself?

No, I think a fulsome response to Genesis 2:18 must include God’s gift of friendship. The Church would be wise to cultivate and support friendship with the same fervor with which it does marriage. Through both Old and New Testaments, the people of God are continually encouraged to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien – to care for those without built-in community, who might otherwise face both the pain (and the danger) of loneliness and isolation. The response to this loneliness and vulnerability is God’s creation of a community – first Israel and then the Church. Even as God has given men and women to one another for the purpose of marriage, he has also given us to one another in a different way for the purpose of friendship. Friendship and community are more than simply cures for loneliness. Friendship should not be a means to an end any more than marriage should be, but friends do provide us with the gifts of community, solidarity, compassion, joy, and many others.

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It is not good for the man to be alone. About 10 o’clock the morning after Olga left, I received a phone call from a friend, followed by another over the lunch break. I wasn’t alone. Friends who cared, who knew me, and with whom I could share my life and my faith surrounded me. It was a joy when I finally talked to my wife on the phone, but God’s full response to my own loneliness included the gift of friends. God had given me a community.

How can you be a friend to those around you today?

How can you cultivate friendship and community in your workplace, your neighborhood, or your church?

How has God responded to your loneliness in the past with the gift of a good friend?

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