A Remedy for the Utter Loneliness of the Human Condition


Depositphotos Image ID: 5949233 Copyright: olly18

Have you ever felt like nobody gets you? Nobody understands who you really are?

First of all, congratulations, because you are being honest. It’s uncomfortable to be that honest. That kind of honesty is hard to face. Most of us would rather pretend it isn’t so, because facing it is like facing a yawning gulf. But the disconnect is there between what we wish and the way things are. It doesn’t go away… if we are honest.

We often feel and know deep down that no one really gets me. Not even my family or closest friends.

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

More important than the first point, though, we are not alone. This is the human condition if we are being brutally honest with ourselves. There is a little relief in realizing that, but we still can’t escape the reality of it, and we shouldn’t try… if that is the reality.

What good does it do us to pretend in the end? But is this the ultimate end to which we are doomed to realize?

Tim Keller, the famous leader of the 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, in my opinion, gets lost in the complexity and also fails. These things may help, but they are band-aids covering up a deeper, more fundamental issue.

Even our closest friends do not really, really know us in our innermost being. We have thoughts that no one else knows. We have are 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 seem isolating and desperately lonely, especially when we long to be known.

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

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, in the end, in the quiet moments when we are willing to be honest, no one really knows me 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, most honestly of all, don’t match up with what I see in my inner being.

In fact, I am not even sure I completely get myself at times. 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 me or you like God knows us, each one of us. When we look to other people to know us and to understand us even as much as we know and understand ourselves, we will ultimately be disappointed. If we are honest with ourselves, we will ultimately be disappointed with 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 to our core. Yet, something of that design remains. In moments of quiet 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 fleeting and mystical. 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 in which we sense it, but the seed of the “real thing” is there. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way, though all is ultimately meaningless (if all we do is eat, drink, work and eventually die),

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

We have beautiful moments and moments in which beauty with its soft light 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 contain 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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