The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Loneliness in the world of a thousand friends

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The point has been made before on this blog about the limitations of Facebook and other social networking sites as a means of gaining and keeping true friends (see here and here, or Carl Trueman here).  I am also aware of the countless exceptions to this general rule, whereby existing friendships are maintained and strengthened, and some genuine new ones formed, by means of these media, not least for some who would have little access to these relationships normally.

Nevertheless, a new study reported by the BBC suggests that loneliness is an increasing problem in the modern West.  While new technology may at times be a blessing, it can also be a curse:

. . . there are also concerns that technology is being used as a replacement for genuine human interaction.

Nearly a third of young people questioned for the report said they spent too much time communicating with friends and families online when they should see them in person.

One charity states:

The young people we work with tell us that talking to hundreds of people on social networks is not like having a real relationship and when they are using these sites they are often alone in their bedrooms.

The issue here is not so much pro or con social networking, but rather the gospel opportunity that such alienation creates.  Multitudes are alienated both from God and from other humans: they are part of no people (compare 1Pt 2.10), and there is a natural need and desire that Christians – in doing good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith – can use as a means of bringing the good news to those seeking true friendship.  Jesus was accused of being the Friend of sinners (Mt 11.19), and Matthew reminds us there that “wisdom is justified by her children.”  Are not these ideal circumstances for us to communicate to the lost and wandering by both words and deeds that there is a Friend for sinners, and that there is a family of God which warmly embraces all who belong to her?

On two occasions the apostle John emphasised that, for all the pen-work and ink-spilling, he wanted to see and speak with at least two of his correspondents – his friends – face to face, in order that his joy might be full (2Jn 12, 3Jn 13-14).  One of the buzzwords in the missional movement is how ‘incarnational’ we ought to be.  Is this, then, not one of the points at which the rubber must meet the road?  Friendships function fully in the body, with as many of the dynamics and dimensions of full interpersonal relationships exercised and cultivated as opportunity provides.  Our relationships as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ ought to be of an order that others, looking on, desire: under God, we can stir up a holy jealousy in men to be part of the family of God.  Our relationship with our elder Brother and truest Friend, Christ, and with his Father and ours, ought to spark a growing desire in those who are spiritually lost and lonely to have such a Brother, such a Friend, such a Father.  And, our relationships with our neighbours, colleagues, family members, and – yes – our friends, ought to be of a kind that preaches the good news in our attitudes, our words, and our deeds.  “So let our lips and lives express / The holy gospel we profess,” indeed.  If a man who has friends must himself be friendly (Prv 18.14), how much more the man who would win friends, to himself and through him to his great Friend and Redeemer, the Lord Christ (Mk 2.1 ff.)?

It will take time and it will cost much, but it will gain much.  An incarnational ministry always does.  Just ask Jesus Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 May 2010 at 09:32

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