Loneliness. Longing. FOMO. These are real, painful, and powerful emotions. They sit in the core of our being and show us just how isolated we are from the world around us. I have never met anyone who hasn't experienced a sense of isolation. Some feel like the social outcast - the person on the outside looking in. Others feel like they always have to have a mask on because people will only accept the persona they put forth and rejection would be worse than death. Some long for deep relationships but keep people at a distance for fear of the hurt that comes when life pulls people apart. I have talked with people who build their identity around a job, or a relationship, or an achievement, and when the thing ends or fails find themselves cast about and lost. Still others find themselves isolated from those around them for fear of being a burden, or a user, or a joke. And some of us have hurt or annoyed people around us so many times that we have burned our bridges and are isolated not just by fear, but by our own actions.
This loneliness, this isolation breaks us because it goes against the innate cry of our hearts. Basically, I believe all of us longing for connection. We long for a place. We long for acceptance and belonging. My wife spent the last weekend at Anime Expo and was so excited about it for weeks. On Monday night, after leaving a hangout with our Small Group, she squealed about how excited she was, saying, "I can't wait to go be with my people!" We all want to have a place like that - we all want a people to call our own.
A Song Of Longing
This sense of longing and desire has been a part of my heart for as long as I can remember. And one song from my teenage years crystalized that feeling more than any other. That song is Go The Distance from Disney's Hercules. By this point, I hope you know the drill. Go listen to the song, and then come back. I'll wait while you listen...Okay, now I'll wait while you go dry your eyes and blow your nose...If you can listen to this song without crying, you are a monster. Okay...fine, not really. But still.
I remember playing this song for marching band and feeling like I was going to start crying on the field. This song still gets to me every time I hear it. There are some times in the car I need to skip it because I don't want to cry. While the movie might be a hot mess, the music from Hercules is awesome. Hercules knows that he is out of place. He knows that he is different. He has parents that love him, true, but everything else still just seems...off. It's almost as though the longing in him is for something more, for something bigger, something...better? If not better, something that "clicks" with how he's made. A sense of connection and belonging that just feels...right. And that longing is something that I believe is universal to humanity. Something that takes us back to the beginning.
Made in the Image and in a Place (Genesis 1:27-31)
More and more in the last few years, I find myself drawn back to Genesis 1 - 3 and Philippians 2. Genesis 1 - 3 seems to set in place the worldview necessary to understand the cosmos, and the rest of the Story of the Scriptures, while Philippians 2 seems to give a summation of the Gospel and provides a lens through which we live that good news out.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that humanity was made in the image of God. There's a lot that has been made over this idea of the image of God, but for now, I'm just going to focus on one little part. To be made in the image of God means that we are made in order to be like and reflect God. For the Christian, God is Triune. God is three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), who somehow still exists as one substance (God). These persons are distinct, yet all equally God. Not three gods, but one God. Not three personalities, but three distinct persons. And this unified plurality exists in an eternal bond of mutual love, respect, care, affection. This plural unity exists with a unified purpose and passion while having distinct functions and expressions.
What does this mean for us? What does this have to do with our longing? Well, it means that our longings for connections and belonging are natural. We were made for community. Humanity was made to reflect the God who exists in an eternal relationship. And we are made to reflect that eternal relationship. We who are a plurality, who are individuals with individual talents and abilities, individual temperaments and personalities, are still called to be a unity - to be human.
And not only are we made for this unity of relationship, but we were also made for this unity of purpose as well. We were created to rule over God's creation with Him as His image-bearers. We were meant for a place. The Garden of Eden was the foretaste of what the rule of man and God was meant to be over all the Earth. And Adam and Eve were meant to be fruitful and multiply that more and more image-bearers might carry the unified purpose in a plurality of ways to the ends of the Earth. Tolkien put it this way, "Man, sub-creator, the refracted light through whom is splintered from a single white to many hues, and endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind."
Broken and Exiled
So why are we so lonely? It's simple - we are exiles. We are rebels. Genesis 3 shows us that we rebelled against God (sin) and the result was separation. We were separated from a relationship with God, the source of all life and goodness. We were separated from each other. And we were separated from the place where we belonged. The very planet that was meant for our good, for our belonging, is now cursed - waiting and groaning under the pain of the separation. Instead of our rule spreading Eden to the ends of the Earth, we spread pain and desolation. Instead of bringing the goodness of God wherever we go, we bring the pain of separation, isolation, and devastation. Instead of cultivating the good for the land, the animals, and each other, in line with the glory of the purpose of the Creator, we seek only the good of ourselves - isolated and separated as we are. But, broken as we are, we are not abandoned.
The Gospel (Philippians 2:1-11)
Here's the beauty of the Story of the Scriptures. God has not abandoned us. The Triune One wants to restore, recreate, and redeem us. He wants to set all things right and bring things back to the way they were always meant to be. And so He set in motion His plan of redemption. So He called Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. So He established His people and sustained them even in the midst of their continuous rebellion. So finally the Son, the eternal Word of God, became incarnate and dwelt among us, showing us what humanity was always meant to be, and showing us what we can be again. So He took our curse upon Himself, so He paid our price, so He died our death, and so He was separated and isolated. And by His death, and by His resurrection, and by His ascension, He has overcome the power of sin and death. He has stood victorious above all powers of separation and calls to unification. He breaks down all the barriers of separation. He reminds us that race and sex are beautiful reflections of His plurality in unity - and that they are never meant to be barriers of separation. He reminds us that economics are tools of care and compassion, not dominance and oppression. He reminds us that talents and skills are merely gifts distributed by the Spirit to further His purposes in the world, not tools for hierarchy and judgment. He calls us to reflect the Three-in-One and constantly seek to honor and uphold each other rather than striving to earn our own places. And He reminds us that nationality means nothing. The borders and governmental structures we make are merely supposed to be vehicles through which we spread Eden. But when they, in turn, become vehicles for separation, division, exclusion and hatred, we merely give in to the lies of the Serpent who led us into rebellion in the first place.
This is where the Church comes into play. Just like Zeus sends Pegasus to Hercules to remind him who he is, what he is supposed to do, as well as support, love, and uphold him on his journey (that's a weird sentence to write), so the Father and the Son send the Spirit to uphold and empower and recreate the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ is not merely an institution. The Church of Jesus Christ is not a denomination nor a faction. And it is most definitely not just a building. The Church of Jesus Christ is all of the people, of all time periods and locations who own Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is the people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit are being recreated into the fullness of the image of Christ - who are being conformed to His likeness. It is all those who are being "re-imaged" to reflect the Godhead. It is the embassy of the Age to Come here in the midst of the broken fallen age. It is the foretaste of the fruit of the restored Eden that one day will be reality. And it is the beachhead in the war to proclaim to all men and women that sin and death no longer have to be the final word. It is the army that takes up the struggle against the powers of sin, death, and separation and tells all of humanity that there is a place where they belong. That the longings and the loneliness can be overcome and set aside.
Go The Distance
Hercules knows that the journey that he is on is one that is going to be hard, it's one that is going to be long, and it's going to be one that is going to require him to be strong to overcome. But the cost doesn't matter. He will go anywhere and do anything it takes to be where he belongs. What about us? The author of Hebrews tells us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." The Church is far from perfect. There are days when I look at the Scriptures and see what we are meant to be, and then I look around at us and I despair. But, I know that every mile will be worth our while. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead indwells and empowers His people even today. Today, even today, we can Go the Distance. The New Heaven and the New Earth are there in the distance. God and Man dwelling in renewed connection and eternal community are calling. The angels will rejoice and sing for joy. The Lord will look upon us and say, "Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master." Let's go the distance.