Every Sunday we host three of our four children, their spouses, and their children for family dinner. My fourth offspring and her family would be invited as well but the two-hour commute each way would be asking a bit much. So that leaves sixteen of us who share a Sunday meal.
The extent of that meal grows with the increasing appetites of my developing grandchildren. I’ve suggested we simplify things by ordering pizza but my wife will hear nothing of it. She wants to do her best to make the time inviting with home-cooked meals, and keep the family connected and the cousins friends as long as she can.
Family relationships are precious. Sure, there are struggles but there is great blessing in sharing life with a spouse. There’s something also to be said for enjoying children and investing in their lives. Relationships enrich us. That applies not only to family but also to friends and co-workers and even the banter of neighbors we connect with while walking the dog.
God made us social creatures. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). God, the God who has eternally existed in tri-unity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in unbroken fellowship, made man in His image. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
God created us for community. It is not good for man to be alone. Those made in the image of God are not made to be alone. The union of man and woman in a life-long, monogamous, marriage bond reflects something at the core of relationship. Two image-bearers, capable of reason, self-awareness, and conscious relationship with their Creator share together in companionship and mission.
There is a sense in which our lives are fuller in community, and in many cases, more capable. Solomon takes note of the benefit of community and companionship.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9–12).
But those same relationships given by God as a means of blessing can become a source of great pain. The woman married to her husband for forty years suddenly finds herself feeling her way through an abject abyss at his sudden death. They were always together to lift each other up but now she’s alone, starkly alone. Part of her has been amputated and she will need to adjust as life goes on.
Relationships also suffer dissolution from unnatural causes. Adultery, desertion, divorce, alienation. Expectations unmet. Dreams shattered. Is it really better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Our answer depends on when we are asked.
Ecclesiastes gives us a sense of the despair of aloneness. “Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, ‘For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (Eccl 4:7–8).
Aloneness is a scourge that lurks as an ever present threat under the sun. This fallen world invites death, dysfunction, and discord. Each of us could tell our stories and admit our fears.
But there will come a day, fellow believers, so we are assured by the fear of the Lord, when sin and sorrow will fly away. Our relationship with the God we were created to glorify and enjoy will be experienced fully and unbroken, all because Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us. Our relationships henceforth, in the new creation, will never let us down. We will never be incomplete, never unfulfilled, never alone.
For now, let us enjoy our relationships, cherish and nurture them, honoring God in them. But we cannot allow ourselves to look to those relationships for what only God can give. To do so would be a striving after wind. We can, however, rest in and relish our relationship with Him who will never leave us or forsake us, who has promised to be with us now till the end of the age and has prepared a place for us in the age to come that we may be where He is. Forever!
- How have you experienced the blessing of relationship and also brokenness?
- What does the beauty of relationship now prepare us for in glory?
“O Lord my God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, grant that my fellowship with You may be sweet and I might find a taste of eternity in my fellowship with others.”
For further study, see Stanley D. Gale, Making Sanity out of Vanity: Christian realism in the book of Ecclesiastes (Faverdale North, Darlington, England: EP Books, 2011).
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Books, a division of Good New Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.