If you were asked to summarize the entirety of the New Testament in three words how would you answer? There are many blessings you could turn to, and truths you could draw upon, but which are the most foundational to our understanding of the Gospel? Which words best capture the essence of what Christ has done for us? J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God that, if he were asked this question, his reply would be “adoption through propitiation.” Packer proposes that the heart of the Gospel is propitiation– Christ died for us as a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God, and the highest privilege of the Gospel is adoption– we are welcomed into God’s family by the blood of Christ. In his poignant reply, I believe Packer identifies how Christ addresses the two great needs of the human heart: our need for forgiveness, and our need for relationship.
I wanted to write briefly about the latter. For all our talk of Christianity as a relationship and not a religion, I think practically we oftentimes make the cross to be one-dimensional; we emphasize the forgiveness of our sins, but forget how the intensely personal aspects of Christ’s sacrifice fulfill intensely personal needs in us. In doing so, I think we lose a crucial aspect of the Gospel’s beauty. Why is it so significant that we have been adopted; that through Christ, God has restored us back into his family and a relationship with him as Father? The truth is that we are not only deeply sinful people, but desperately lonely ones as well; and through the cross, Christ has made an end to our loneliness.
Over Spring break I had a chance to read Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. In this book, Hill offers a painfully honest account of the struggles of gay Christians as they seek to remain pure and faithful before God. Although I cannot claim to even approach the pain endured by those struggling with homosexual desires, I identified with Hill’s writing on loneliness– a pain experienced acutely by him, but common to us all. In his chapter entitled “An End to Loneliness”, Hill defines our loneliness as a longing for a “relationship of mutual desire; one in which we can want someone wholeheartedly and be wanted with the same intensity.” That is our need. We want to know and to be known, to desire and to be desired in return. “All our lives we are searching for someone who will take us seriously,” Hill writes, but all of our human relationships are in some way inadequate to meet this need. We desire for intimacy but are often spurned instead; in turn, we find that we can offer little to the people who need us most; and though we long to really know others and for them to know us, in the end, we know little of substance of anyone, and even our closest friendships only scratch the surface of our souls.
How deep is this problem though? Most of us know and acknowledge the gravity and danger of sin– we are not just mildly bad people; we are depraved sinners and nothing short of the blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Spirit could have changed our hearts. I suspect, however, that not many of us would consider our loneliness a problem of similar magnitude. Is loneliness merely a nagging inconvenience for certain unloved people? Or is it a problem which, like sin, reaches to the very core of all of us?
I would argue for the latter; that loneliness is one of the fundamental problems of sinful human existence and that nothing short of the blood of Christ can fill this void. If the heart of the Gospel is propitiation and its highest privilege, adoption; then it stands to reason that the greatest problem introduced by the Fall was sin, and the greatest benefit lost was our relationship with God. Because of sin, we have been cut off from our Father, the fountain of living water. We have been alienated from the only relationship where our yearning to desire and to be desired, to know and to be known, can be met. Where we once sought and enjoyed the presence of God, we now hide and run away because of our shame and guilt. Where we once desired to worship God and to be with him, we now abandon him and desire the creation over the Creator himself. Our relationships with others, once centered and rooted in God, now become sources of pain and disappointment. In vain, we search for fulfillment and joy in the broken cisterns of this world, but we find that in everything we are alienated, both from God and from others. This is the gravity of the human condition apart from Christ: we are hungry people eating bread that does not satisfy and drinking water that only intensifies our thirst.
When we understand our desperate need for an end to our loneliness, this Gospel becomes all the more beautiful, surprising, and relevant to our hearts. For in the Gospel, our inconsolable yearning is finally met by Jesus, God in flesh, the living water and bread of life. We long to desire wholeheartedly, and to be desired in return. The Gospel rings with this resounding note– Jesus desires us. He has demonstrated his unconditional love for us by leaving his throne on high to die on the cross for us while we were still yet sinners. What greater longing is there than that? What greater love? Not only does Jesus desire us, we, too, can wholeheartedly desire him. Jesus promises that those who seek to love him with heart, soul, and mind, will never be disappointed or put to shame. We long to know and to be known. Jesus Christ knows us perfectly and there is joy and life in knowing him. He became a man like us, he has suffered our deepest sorrows, and he now stands before the Father as our risen mediator. The Bible promises that there is nothing more rewarding than those who count all as loss to know the surpassing worth of Christ!
In Christ, we have been adopted through propitiation. We are orphans no longer. The veil has been torn, the presence of God has returned, and we have been made sons and joint heirs with Christ. We were once cut off from God, but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We once faced the wrath of a holy judge on sinful criminals, but now we receive affection, fellowship, and honor from our Father. In the family of God, we are not alone nor we will ever be again. We forever have the love of the Father, who, when he looks at us, sees the righteousness of his beloved Son; and we forever have Christ, our friend, our brother, and our king.
It is in this gospel where we find peace from the turmoil in our souls and rest for our weariness; strength to carry on and comfort for when everything else gives way. Here in this Gospel we find the relationship we’ve always wanted; the friend and father, lover and king that we’ve always needed. He will never leave nor forsake us. He can heal our hearts and make us whole. Hill, near the end of his chapter on loneliness, expresses it this way: “In some profound sense, this love of God— expressed in his yearning and blessing and experienced in our hearts— must spell the end of longing and loneliness. In solitude, God desiring us, God wanting us, is enough.” May we cherish and depend on this Gospel!
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1a)
This is an idea I’ve been thinking about and wrestling over for quite some time. I’d be interested in hearing all of your opinions on this! Do you believe this loneliness, as described in this post, is theologically and practically the problem that I make it out to be?
Also, I’ve divided this post up into two parts for the sake of length and so that I could finally publish this (I’ve had writer’s block on this for the longest time…) Part 2 coming soon, which will talk about loneliness in the life of a Christian.
Chris, while I love your take on loneliness and its roots, I don’t think the problem is nearly that horrible. 🙂 It’s one thing to tell Christian brothers and sisters (regardless of their sexuality) to be satisfied and content with the lot Jesus has given us, and to be patient, waiting for “the greater reward” as one of my teachers called marriage, but it’s another to say that such a longing for fulfillment in these earthly relationships is sinful, when it gets right down to it. We must recognize that no human being, Christian or not, can completely satisfy like Christ, but there’s community, edification, fellowship– things that you can’t get, living “like a monk.”
Hope I wasn’t putting words in your mouth there. Great post, man! Cya tomorrow!
Joseph, I think we’re actually on the same page. The point of this post was not to say that seeking fulfillment in earthly relationships is sinful. God created us to be social beings– to interact, encourage, and share life with other humans. I was just saying that human relationships are insufficient to fulfill our need for relationship. As you said, “no human being, Christian or not, can completely satisfy like Christ.” The Gospel redeems both our relationship with God and our relationships with others. It allows to not view human relationships as the ultimate end to our loneliness, but rather as avenues where we can love unconditionally because Christ has shown love to us!
Pingback: Coram Deo: Reflections from a Birthday Boy | Joy Inexpressible
Pingback: Thumper, Ellie, and Lessons of the Father’s Goodness | Joy Inexpressible