In his journal, Solomon has described the different lifestyles that he pursued in the search for happiness and contentment apart from a relationship with God.
In his experiment with wealth and power he concludes that life at the "top" is filled with grief (oppression, envy, disillusionment). In the section we will study now he will summarize the most common feeling experienced by those at the top of any enterprise: loneliness. He discovers that the ironic thing about loneliness is that no amount of success can insulate one from this feeling.
In these few verses he describes the antidote for loneliness and how this antidote, just like the loneliness itself, is available for everyone whether they are at the top or at the bottom.
The word loneliness refers to both a perception and an emotion. The perception of loneliness is that of being on one's own; without connections to other individuals through friendship, family, shared history, ideals or common objectives.
One of the most difficult problems experienced by newly arrived immigrants, for example, is loneliness since they are cut off from both friends and family as well as country, politics, history and ideals that their former dwellings provided. The further you move and the more often you change, the greater the perception of separateness or loneliness. Loneliness not only has a face and image but also has a heart or feeling. Loneliness is felt in a variety of ways (e.g. fear, anger, anxiety, heaviness, sorrow, discouragement). The emotion of loneliness is usually dictated by the cause of the separation. For example, loneliness caused by culture shock usually feels like anxiety, discouragement and a sense of unreality. Loneliness caused by forced separation like death, divorce or a dispute feels like anger, fear and sorrow.
Loneliness is a normal part of life. It is like a small island that we sometimes inhabit as the seasons of our lives change, and since our lives do inevitably change we need to recognize that we will often visit the island of loneliness for periods of time. The danger is making a permanent home for ourselves there. We know we have been on the island of loneliness too long when we hear ourselves say things like:
1. "Why don't people love me and help me?"
This question suggests that we are shifting the responsibility for our loneliness onto everyone else's shoulders but ourselves. We begin to deal with our loneliness by blaming others for it.
2. "If only other people realized how difficult things are for me."
This statement is a cover for attention getting strategies. Most of the time we want people to listen to our problems without trying to find any solutions. In this type of situation we deal with loneliness through self-pity.
3. "Nobody cares. I am all alone in this."
This is not a question, it is an attitude. It is a type of pride that assumes one's own problems are greater and more complex than anyone else's. Here we struggle with loneliness by wearing it as a badge. We develop a type of martyr complex.
We cannot leave the island of loneliness:
- By blaming others for putting us there.
- By sitting under a palm tree and feeling sorry for ourselves.
- By stoic self-resignation.
We eventually leave the island by calling out for help:
- Send up a smoke signal.
- Drop a note in a bottle.
- Paddle out to the next island and seek out the one who is there.
Solutions to Loneliness (4:9-12)
Solomon recognized that loneliness afflicted everyone - even the people at the top (suggesting that he too may have been lonely) and that the solution to loneliness and feelings of alienation was the simple acknowledgment that we need companionship. This was ironic coming from Solomon since he had 1000 wives and concubines!
We cannot enjoy life to the fullest as loners. People have been created to function at their very best in the company of other people. Adam knew God and fellowshipped with Him and the creation alone, but until there was another human being created to be like him and with him - he was lonely. Have you ever noticed that in the scenes depicting heaven, we are never pictured enjoying eternity in solitary union with God but in the fellowship of the saints and angels?
In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Solomon reiterates this truth and gives three reasons why friends are necessary and companionship is the antidote to loneliness.
9Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
Solomon, as is his usual style, states the conclusion first. It is better to go through life with someone else than to go at it alone. He is not only referring to marriage here, but every morally responsible relationship available to man. Life is tough and we need help to get through it.
Even the Lone Ranger was not alone, he had Tonto! Robinson Crusoe would not have kept his sanity without his man, Friday. The worst punishment in prison is solitary confinement.
The next verses contain three reasons why companionship (and not money, sex, power or prestige) is the answer to loneliness.
1. One can encourage when the other is weak.
10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
We would not need friends if we never made mistakes, never sinned or were never sick. Friends are our guard against being totally overwhelmed by illness, trouble and the negative circumstances in our lives. Nothing is more enjoyable than helping a friend, and nothing is more humbling and spiritually maturing than allowing ourselves to be ministered to by our friends.
2. The sum is greater than the parts.
11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?
There are things I cannot do by myself or for myself, but can accomplish with the help of my friends. It can be business or the development of certain elements in my personality. We need friends to make us whole in various areas of our lives. We need friends to help us raise our children, celebrate our victories and mourn our losses. Friends divide the workload and multiply the joy.
3. We need protection.
12aAnd if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.
We need protection from physical as well as spiritual danger in this world. I need my friend to defend me when others are gossiping against me. My car has problems, and my friends who know about cars protect me from being cheated at some dishonest garage. Solomon concludes by extending his thought in verse12b.
A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
If two friends are good, three are even better. The point is that the way to leave the island of loneliness is to build a bridge of escape one friend at a time.
Solomon teaches us that loneliness can strike at the top or at the bottom, but the antidote is to cultivate companionship wherever we are on the ladder of success because:
- Companions help calm the storms of life.
- Companions reassure us when we are vulnerable or exposed.
- Companions take our part when others try to take us apart.
I believe that more than anything else in my Christian life, the Christian friends that my wife and I have made have been the cure for much of the loneliness that we have experienced because of our conversion, our work in the ministry and the many moves that we have made in service to our calling.
We cannot make it through days of disillusionment and times of trouble without friends. When it comes to loneliness, many times one person plus one friend often equals survival.