A Remedy for the Utter Loneliness of the Human Condition

Even our closest friends do not really, really know us in our innermost being.

Depositphotos Image ID: 5949233 Copyright: olly18

Have you ever felt like nobody gets you? Have you ever felt that no one understands who you really are? Not even your family or your closest friends?

First of all, congratulations, because you are being honest. It’s uncomfortable to be that honest.

I could be wrong. Maybe it’s only me, but I think many of us would rather pretend people know us better than they really do. We connect on the surface. We connect the best we can, but there are parts of us few people know or understand… if we are honest.

I sometimes feel as if everyone else “gets it” (this thing we philosophically call life) but me. Perhaps, everyone else is connected in a way that I am not. Nothing feels more isolating or lonely than feeling disconnected and alone.

I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way, though. This is the human condition. If we are being brutally honest about it. This is reality.

If this is the reality, what do we do with it? How do we live with the brutal honesty of it? We yearn for connection deep down, but many of us feel utterly disconnected and isolated from others at the core of our being.

Tim Keller, the famous leader of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, says there is “an irreducible, unavoidable solitude about the human condition”. He finds this reality expressed, among other places, in Proverbs:

The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.[1]

We are complicated beings. Though we might view ourselves at times as only bodies, only emotions, only minds, we are all of those things and much more.

Self-help books try to make the complex simple, but they ultimately fail. Psychology often gets lost in the complexity and fails. These things may help, but they are band-aids covering up a deeper, more fundamental issue.

Our closest friends don’t really know us in our innermost being. We have thoughts that no one else knows. We have fears we don’t share with anyone. No one really knows the inner me as well as I know my inner self, and that can make us feel isolated and desperately lonely, especially when we long to be known.

For these reasons, the famous saying is true, that people are never as lonely as when they are in a crowd. We can feel all alone even among our family and closest friends.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t make connections with people. The most successful of us are good at making those connections. We are made to connect with each other. But the reality is that no one really knows me as completely or intimately as I know myself.

Actually, the fact is that I don’t even know myself completely. I have images and ideas of myself that, if I am being brutally honest, don’t match up to how I behave – and, if I am really being honest with myself, my construct of who I am doesn’t match up with how I act or what I see in my inner being.

Why do I sometimes do the things I do? Why can’t I be the way I want to be? There are mysteries about myself that I don’t even know.

This truth is also expressed in the Bible:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Proverbs 16:2 (NIV))

People may be right in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their heart. (Proverbs 21:2 (NLT))

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV))

The truth is that no one really knows us like God knows us. He knows each one of us better than anyone knows us… and better than we even know ourselves..

As simplistic as this sounds, the reality is that we didn’t create ourselves. We were created by God who, alone, knows us intimately, even better than we know our own selves.

Nothing expresses that truth better than Psalm 139:

1O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

To make things more complex, the Bible tells us that we have also wandered from the design of God, from God’s intention when He formed us, so that His design is corrupted in us… even in our core being. Yet, something of that design remains. In moments of inspiration, we can sense it.

In moments in which we are touched by the soft, divine hand of God, we sense a knowing that belies all the loneliness and confusion, if only fleetingly and mystically. CS Lewis calls this knowing “surprised by joy”[2]. Tim Keller calls it “cosmic nostalgia”[3]. My writing friend, Mitch Teemly, calls it “a hunger for a flavor that doesn’t exist”.

It is a sense that there is something more to life than we see on the surface. This knowing doesn’t exist in our present lives, but for fleeting moments. This is the seed of the “real thing”. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way: though everything seems ultimately meaningless (if all we do is eat, drink, work and eventually die),

He has made everything beautiful in its time[, and], he has put eternity into man’s heart…. (Ecc. 3:11)

We have beautiful moments and moments in which the light of beauty penetrates our hearts and touches the seed of eternity that God put there. This is the “flavor” for which we long; this is the “joy” that surprises us: this is the “cosmic nostalgia” that we sense, as if remembering something from a different galaxy, from a different life … or something yet to be realized.

This is a brush with eternity, with the God who knows our inner being better than we know ourselves. Though we may sense it as if it were a thing that was past, it is a sense of an overarching and underlying and surrounding reality that we can only just glimpse in fleeting moments in this earthbound existence.

It is a glimpse of what was in the beginning, even now is, and always will be that we, trapped in these earthen vessels, cannot even begin to grasp in its full reality in our present being. But this is what we have been made for. We have been made to know as we are fully known.

“Now we see as if in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face!”[4]


[1] Proverbs 14:10

[2] Lewis calls these fleeting realizations “a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”

[3] Keller says, cosmic nostalgia is “a longing for something we remember, yet we’ve never had”.  His phraseology suggests the influence of CS Lewis, who wrote: “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” (From the Weight of Glory)

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:12

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