We were not made for loneliness we were made for love, not romantic love but love from God, love by neighbours, love by a redeemed community that meets us again and again with the welcome of grace and the rest of the gospel.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to our building friendships comes from our idolatry of marriage in the church. If you’re single you experience it as people in church trying to matchmake you with any eligible Christian of the opposite sex, and that makes you weary of friendships especially those with the opposite sex. All of us imbibe it in the relationship talks we’re given at youth groups and camps which are often well meaning but focus on marriage as the thing that will save you from your struggle with sexual sin and provide you with the intimacy and friendship you so long for. And that often means when people get married they so with unhealthy expectations. They also tend to pull away from previous friendships, almost as if a close relationship with anyone else will endanger their marriage. Pastorally I’ve dealt with many who have been badly wounded by just that unloving act and now feel fearful of building new friendships because what if they meet someone….
The churches idolatry of marriage is partly the result of our overreaction to the world’s idolatry of sex. Sexual love is viewed as the highest form of love in the world, it’s the ultimate hence the mantra that love is love and nothing should get in the way of that. It is the highest good, the ultimate expression of love, the goal to aim for. And so the church doubles down on the teaching that marriage between a man and a woman is the only right context for sexual love and intimacy, without challenging societies mantra on sexual love being the ultimate, the place you will find fulfilment. But in so doing I worry that we write cheques marriage can’t cash. The bible’s picture of love is so much broader and more beautiful and bountiful than that. It’s much more multifaceted and we lose something when we shrink love down to sexual love, we lose friendship and end up overburdening and overexpecting of marriage and naturally as a result we will find our churches full of people struggling with loneliness whether married or single and marriages creaking under the strain.
The Bible is full of stories of the joy of love that is not sexual. Sexual love is only one type of love we were made to enjoy. Marriage is the only context in which God says we’re to fulfil that love, yet marriage itself has limits, it points beyond itself to the eventual eternal joy of the union between Christ and the Church. And that means we must see marriage for what it is. A signpost, a precious covenant signpost that can bring much joy, yes. A good gift of God, yes. But also one that is given not to be an idol but to be part of a process of growing Christlikeness spurred on by those entering it. It is not the only form of love we were made to enjoy, that we need. Even in the garden the image of Adam and Eve isn’t it, it’s not complete. They aren’t sat snuggled up and loved up on a sofa with a Rom Com or Action flick blissfully content to find all they need in each others eyes, they have a job to do to create a community of worshippers, with a web of other relationships, other types of love, that is what they were made for.