Editor’s Note: The theme of this year’s ENDURE Apologetics conference, held on Friday September 27th, was “Together: How Should We Live Life with Others?” Over the next few weeks, we will publish the talks that were given at the conference. The post below, by Ben Phillips (Dean of the College of Christian Studies at CSU) serves as an introduction to the theme of the conference and the talks that were given.
Loneliness has become an epidemic problem in our culture. Not simply social isolation, where one never interacts with others, but the absence of and inability to form deep, life-giving relationships. A person can be lonely in a crowded room.
Failure to build relationships has led to elderly people dying in heat waves because no one cared to check on them. In some places, insurers offer “lonely death” insurance to protect landlords from the cost of cleaning up apartments where the death of the tenant was only discovered when their corpse began to decompose. This is not material poverty; it is social poverty.
Loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly. In fact, studies show that Generation-Z (18-22 year-olds) is the loneliest generation of all. In a 2018 poll by Cigna Insurance, 47% of Gen-Z reported feeling left out, and 43% felt like their relationships are not meaningful. Only 18% of young adults think they have someone they can “talk to.”
The stress created by this sense of loneliness not only has social implications, it also has a physical effect… equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day! Medical studies indicate that it raises the level of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and suicide. What can be done?
In Britain, the government has started a “befriending program,” which pays social workers to visit lonely people for an hour, a few times a month. Sociologists at the University of West Virginia have started a program which brings small groups of lonely people together to share their feelings of loneliness and desire for relationships. Such programs are well-intentioned, but cannot possibly solve the problem. Paying people to befriend someone is not genuine friendship—it is mercenary—it will not endure when the paycheck ends. Healthy and deep relationships are unlikely to form when no-one in the room knows how to form them.
Christians, however, know the cure.
Applying a cure always begins with diagnosing the disease, and in this case, it is sin. Sin isolates us from God and from each other. It’s ultimate payoff is death. But God sent His own Son to die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, to rise again from the grave, and to reconcile us to God. The gospel overcomes our inability to have a live-giving relationship with God. But the gospel also impacts our relationships in this life, enabling us to develop life-affirming relationships with others. It takes those who are “curved in” on themselves and redirects them towards others. It not only enables us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul; it teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The gospel is the cure for the loneliness epidemic. It reconciles us to God. It brings to us the Holy Spirit, who enables us to grow in sanctification, overcoming the sin that breaks our relationships with repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Now, God’s Son has tasked Christians with the ministry of reconciliation.