Sometimes, you’re lonely because you’re godly.
Loneliness is a problem, of course. Even the most introverted individuals are designed by God to be social beings. From the beginning, it was God—not man—who concluded, “It is not good for man to be alone” (cf Gen 2:18). Sustained loneliness is detrimental to a man’s soul, whether he recognizes it or not. It’s for this reason that God designed man to live in social institutions—with his wife and children in the family unit, with fellow country-men in his city and nation, and in the fellowship of other disciples in the church.
Yet, loneliness is prevalent. Interact with enough people and you’ll soon realize that people will express loneliness as often as they express tiredness. It’s somewhat of a rarity to meet a man who is fully satisfied with the social and relational structure that characterizes his life. The majority of individuals I know have expressed some degree of loneliness. I hear it both from seventy-year old widows and seventeen-year old athletes. I hear it from married couples and middle-schoolers. I hear it from pastors and parents. I hear it from men and women. If I’m going strictly from my own experiential observations, the probability that those who are reading this are experiencing some degree of loneliness is fairly high.
And there’s a chance that—if you are a true disciple of Christ and genuinely seeking His kingdom and righteousness as a priority in your life as Christ instructed (cf. Matt 6:33)—your loneliness is the inevitable, though unintentional, result of your godly passion.
But before you conclude that you are lonely because you are godly, you need to first consider the multitude of secondary reasons for why someone might be experiencing feelings of loneliness. Sometimes, we’re lonely because of tragic experiences and people’s inability to understand our grief (cf. Job 30-31; Prov 14:10). Sometimes, loneliness is caused by financial poverty (cf. Prov 19:7). In some cases, we bring about our own loneliness because of our own wickedness (cf. Prov 28:12, 28). Similarly, there are times where we find ourselves experiencing loneliness because we are selfish and arrogant (cf. Prov 18:1).
This is not a comprehensive list, but it does reveal that there are instances when loneliness is circumstantially inevitable (for which a person can’t be blamed) and there are instances when loneliness is self-induced. And when it is self-induced, it is often because of a person’s own sin or foolishness. Usually, when I bump into a person who has no friends, it’s not because he’s godly; it’s because he’s foolish, selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant, or flat-out wicked. So, when a man is without friends, I’ll usually encourage him to do some serious self-examination of his own character and the way he treats people. Actually, I find it rare to see a man who is lonely because he is godly.
But the fact that something is rare doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. There are those cases where a person is indeed lonely because he is godly. There are cases where it is a man’s increasing passion for God that inevitably (though unintentionally) leads to estrangement from people—including the people he loves and serves. Such is revealed by the words of David in Psalm 69:9-10:
I have become estranged from my brothers and as an alien to my mother’s sons. For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
Estranged. Alienated. These are all synonyms for experiencing loneliness. And the cause of such loneliness is not defective character or a tragic circumstance, but a genuine zeal for the things of God. True godliness will inevitably result in a certain degree of loneliness—estrangement and alienation from people, even those who claim to be followers of God. The words of the Psalm were written by David; its truth was reflected in the life of Elijah when he fled from persecution (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-10) and most fully manifested in the life of Christ Himself (cf. John 2:17).
Why does godliness often result in loneliness? It occurs because the visible church—the community of people who verbally claim to be Christians—is filled with people who are not passionate about God. This is especially true in a church that exists in a region that is largely free from governmental persecution. When the visible church is persecuted, it often results in purification, as the persecution purges the church of those who masquerade as lovers of God but who in actuality are in love with this present world and have no passion for God Himself.
Remember Christ’s parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1-25? The visible population of those who claim to be followers of Jesus contains plenty of people whose hearts are rocky and thorny soils—those who appear to receive the Word but abandon Christ due to the persecution or pleasures of this world. How many people have we seen walk through the doors of the church say that they’re looking for a church with good teaching and that they love the biblical preaching they hear from the pulpit, but who make no real sacrifices to do the work of God? There are plenty of individuals in the church—including your church—who call themselves Christians, but in whom a passion for Christ is absent (cf. Rev 2:4). And such apathy will naturally distance itself from godly zeal.
People who don’t have a passion for God don’t want to be around those who do. Lukewarm people don’t want to be reminded that they are lukewarm, which happens when they’re around those who are fiery about God, His name, His work, and His Word. They show up on Sunday morning, say a few polite words to the pastor, engage in some small talk with people in their demographic, and that’s it. There’s no zeal for the proclamation of Christ, the furtherance of the gospel to the world, the building up of the church, and the coming of Christ’s kingdom. And such people naturally feel threatened when in the presence of those who do indeed have a passion for godly things and who, with integrity and earnestness, give their lives to such endeavors. In light of these realities, you can begin to see why genuine passion for God may inevitably result in estrangement and alienation from people. And the more passionate you are—the more such zeal consumes your being and your life—the more estranged and alienated you become (as Psalm 69:9-10 reveals). It could be the case that you are lonely because you are godly.
Again, a person who is experiencing loneliness should not assume that it’s a result of his passion for God. Don’t automatically assume yourself a martyr. A good doctor once told me of a saying in medical school: “When you see hooves, think horses and not zebras.” When experiencing a certain condition, look for the simplest and most probable explanation for it. Because loneliness is much more frequently effected by a host of causes other than godliness, you who are lonely ought to truly examine your life for the presence of such elements first. But if, after genuinely searching yourself with the help of the Holy Spirit, you see no indication of the presence of those other elements, then perhaps you can conclude that you are lonely because you are godly. And if such is the case, fret not; you are in the company of many godly men!