One of the reasons, among many, that I came to my father’s house was to spend some time with him. He has spent too much time alone since my mother’s death. And, until my sister and her family move in with him, I can interact with my father on a daily basis while I am working on getting the house ready for its new residents.
We are created to be in relationship. Some over the history of the Church considered that our relationship with God was all that was necessary and became Christian hermits. However, God did not intend us just to be in relationship with him. After the creation of Adam, God demonstrated to his new creation that he was missing a helpmate. Adam had God, but God knew that was not enough to meet the design he had put into him. He needed to relate to others of his own kind. It is important for us to remember that this assertion comes from God himself.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:18-20
That Scripture is very important. Two of the substitutes that are often used for person to person relationships are there: God and animals. But God was showing Adam that these were not enough for the person he designed Adam to be. That has not changed. God himself and the creatures of his creation are not enough for us either. We need, by design, other people and it would seem from the passage that follows, we as men need to interact with women.
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:21-25
From this passage we see that marriage and the conjugal oneness it brings is an intimate part of Gods design for mankind. But as the population of the land grows after the fall, we see the essential relationships between family and friends become part of what we need to live in human society. However, over the justifiable concerns of improper sexual conduct and the extremely difficult temptations that our sexuality brings into our lives, strong taboos were created between men and women to limit their interaction and it was hoped, their sexual sin. As a result, men and women, except for husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, had almost no relationship or interaction with one another. Only in family did the sexes interact in any substantive non-sexual way.
Into this void steps the Son of God. In reading the Gospels I find it remarkable how many relationships Jesus has with women and not just Mary and Martha, but everyone from adulterers to Samaritans. It is also remarkable, especially considering the social strictures practiced in Israel during his lifetime, how freely he talked and interacted with women, even women he did not know, like the Samaritan woman at the well. He neither considered them evil (the temptresses of Satan as some of the Desert Fathers would later call them) nor beneath him, but treated them with the same dignity he treated his male disciples. He even used women as examples of piety, such as the widow who gives her all in making an offering at the temple.
But back to my original point, we all need relationships; it is part of our design. Our relationship with God is not enough. Neither, would I argue, is our relationship with our family. Note that in the Genesis passage, later reflected in Ephesians 5, men are to leave their family and hold fast to their wives (I would assume the converse is true for women). They are to enter into relationships outside their family with a substantive other. I believe there are good reasons for this. Ideally family relationships are safe and protected. At their root they are nurturing and despite our sin, they transcend our likes and dislikes. The blood that families share transcends and binds in ways that go deep into our souls. The Greeks had a special word, sturge, for the love that blood engenders, the natural affection between family members. This transcendent sense of family that shared blood creates also echoes in the blood of Christ that both washes and adopts us into the family of God, making of one blood all of the redeemed.
But when we step beyond blood, we enter strange territory, into places where we have to work hard to understand and be understood. Crossing from family to friends is hard work and the ties that bind are not what flows through our veins but what flows through our hearts and minds. Friends are made and their relationships take effort, but once established they are tethered forever, unless willfully broken. I can meet an old friend, someone I have not seen in many years, and it is like the days have not passed. We are immediately and without effort comfortable with one another. Like an old shoe, pulled from storage yet still a perfect fit, old friends find their place and fit in around us without much effort. The Greeks had a special word for friendships, philios, a love that is built between two people who share only the bond of their common commitment to one another.
Scripture talks about friends in a special way with significant examples such as David and Jonathan 1 Samuel 18:1, Daniel and his three companions Daniel 2:49, and Luke and Theophilus Acts 1:1, a friendship out of which came a Gospel and the Book of Acts. Jesus called his disciples friends John 15:14-15. And though Mary and Martha considered him rabbi and master, I think they also would be included in the list of his friends, along with their brother Lazarus.
Relationships are important to us, to our very nature as human beings. God created us for relationships, for him, for family, and for friends. It is not good for us to be alone and because of that, I am spending time with my father. At 82, he doesnt have any friends left, only family and I guess that is the way it is supposed to be toward the end of life, much the same way it is at the beginning of life. At the start and at the end it is family that nurtures and sustains us, helping us make the transition into and out of this world.
So, my reader, do not allow yourself to be alone. Look around you and reach out to those whom you know who might be alone. Make the effort and nurture the joy and mystery of relationship. Fulfill Gods purpose in you and be a friend, brother, sister, son, daughter, father, or mother. Be in relationship.
Grace and peace to you this day.