The world can be a lonely place. It has been said that our society is the most connected (technologically) and yet the loneliest in the history of time. No wonder so many people are hurting so deeply. No wonder depression and suicide are on the rise. We were created for deep, intimate, life-giving relationships, and yet this type of relationship seems to evade us. Why? Is it because of technology? Is it because of social media? While I think these things have amplified the problem, I don’t believe they are at the root of it. I think the issue is far more sinister, far more destructive, and has been at work far longer—subtly obstructing that which we desire most: to be fully known and loved unconditionally.
The first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) tell us that we were created to be in intimate relationship with both God and people—naked, free, and unimpeded. But something happens in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are seduced into sin by the serpent. In an instant, relationship is broken. The first thing they do after rejecting God’s commandment and eating the forbidden fruit is hide from God and cover themselves from each other with fig leaves.
Sin has had the same effect on us. We, too, were created for intimacy. It is our deepest desire to be fully known and loved unconditionally. Yet sin has robbed us of this. We believe that if we were fully known—with all of our sinfulness, brokenness, messiness, and ugliness—we wouldn’t be loved. So we put on a mask—a fig leaf if you will—and we cover the parts we’re ashamed of. We present ourselves as the version of us that we believe we need to be in order to receive the love we so deeply desire. But the love this gets us is not the love we desire. We still feel unknown. Intimacy doesn’t exist unless we are fully loved and fully known.
Thankfully, Genesis 3 (where Adam and Eve first choose sin) is just the beginning of the story. The rest of the Bible is about a God that so loves those he has created, that He will stop at nothing to provide a way for the broken relationships to be restored. In Jesus Christ, the effects of sin have been destroyed. The chasm created between us and God has been bridged. We no longer need to hide: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ… For through him we have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:13, 18).
But why do Christians still feel lonely then? Why was this my story? Why did I feel like no one really knew me? Why was I lonely to the point of a dark depression and a deep despair?
In the Bible, God delivers Israel from slavery in the land of Egypt in a mighty and miraculous way. Yet when they get out into the desert and start to get hungry, they actually want to go back to Egypt! They want to go back to the familiar “comforts” and “security” of their slavery. They were free, but they didn’t know how to live like it.
There is a similar truth in our salvation. There is a gap—a logical breakdown even—between what we believe intellectually and how that informs and directs the way we actually live our lives. In order to know God in a way that satisfies our deepest desire—we have to continue to step out in faith, to face our fears, and to confront our own “slave-like mentality.” We have to bridge the gap between what we believe and how we live. We have to live in light God’s incredible love for us. We have to willfully decide to stop hiding from God and to remove our proverbial fig leaves—as scary as that may be.
Our first step is to let the truths of the Gospel give us the courage to be painfully honest with ourselves. I am completely and entirely known by God, and I am loved unconditionally because of Jesus’ death on the cross. If God knows every bad thing I’ve done and has forgiven me for it, then I don’t have to hide from him. I don’t have to fear being “found out”. I don’t have to fear losing His love or being abandoned by Him. Like the Apostle Paul, I can boast (be brutally honest) in my weaknesses!
The next step is getting to know ourselves. We’ve become so used to hiding and so used to wearing our masks, that we’ve lost track of who we really are. We’ve suppressed deep down the things that have hurt us most. And we’ve become deeply disconnected from understanding what we are feeling and how to communicate that.
The Gospel and God’s grace can become clichés that hang on our bulletin board but lack any real power in our lives because we don’t allow them to permeate our own story. We get the temptation to talk about things from our past as if being a new creation in Christ means we’re no longer connected to or influenced by the hurts of our past. We give oversimplifications of dealing with buried hurts by saying things like “nail it to the cross” or “Jesus already took care of that”. But people are more complex than that. Pain still needs to be grieved. Becoming a Christian doesn’t automatically heal all our old wounds. Instead, the power is in the fact that it frees us up to not be afraid to confront things that we’ve tried to forget because they were so painful. It equips us with tools necessary to deal with the hurt so healing can occur. We are given a great counselor in the Holy Spirit that will seek the depths of our hearts and uncover things we had forgotten about. And He will be a comforter to us as we grieve.
Finally, we have to take off the fig leaves that we are using to hide/protect ourselves from other people. It’s not enough to press into our own story, seeking to understand ourselves better—with our hurts, and fears, and shame. We have to share those things with other people—other believers. We cannot walk out our faith in the duplicity of being known by God while continuing to hide from others. God’s creational intent for us relationally is two-fold: He has wired us to be fully known and loved unconditionally, by God and by others. We have to start letting people see our messiness—our nakedness—warts and all.
One night as I was in the midst of learning and applying all of this in my own life, I was praying and I cried out to God: “God I believe that fullness of joy is found in you alone (Psalm 16), but why can’t I find it? Why am I still lonely? Why am I still depressed?” In perhaps the clearest response I have ever received from God, He responded (not audibly but just as clear): “Fullness of joy is found in me alone, but you won’t find it alone with me. Not because I can’t but because I won’t; because I am passionate about my body—the church. I have designed you to be in relationship with other people. It is through them that I make myself manifest. You won’t experience a fullness of me that brings joy and contentment apart from authentic relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.”
God has designed us to experience His grace, love, and mercy through our relationships with other people. It is how an invisible God becomes tangible in our relationship with Him. If we continue to hide from others, we are hiding from God and we will never experience the type of intimacy we are longing for. We will be stuck in the vicious cycle of trying to earn love by hiding behind a mask while being desperately lonely because we aren’t truly known. You were created to be in, authentic, “naked” relationships—to be truly known. And you are freed up to do so by the blood of Jesus.
In response to my prayer, God was calling me to step out in faith relationally. I could no longer wear the mask I was so used to hiding behind. I had to drop the façade and be real, authentic, transparent, vulnerable, messy—and even broken. Yes, It was scary. But as I did this, God met my needs for intimacy in a way that far exceeded anything I had known before. The depression, the anxiety, the cheap substitute for intimacy in the form of a pornography addiction that I had struggled with most of my life—all began to dissipate. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone. I was fully known and loved unconditionally.