God loves us. Of the million things that point to this, one that is particularly wonderful is found in Psalm 68:6, where King David states, “God sets the lonely in families”. This is a strangely moving statement and one that calls for contemplation.
“God sets the lonely in families”: this is how the New International Version translates David’s inspired words. The King James Version and the Amplified Version offer a slightly different slant, translating, “God places the solitary in families”. A person who is lonely feels alone and longs for company or friends, whereas a person who is solitary is alone but does not necessarily feel sad about it. Lonely, solitary—both involve isolation from companions, along with actual or potential sadness; and both describe the situation, at one time or another, of every person who has ever lived.
The Creation of Woman
Because it is not his desire for anyone to be alone, God sets the lonely, the solitary, in families. This is evident from the outset of creation.
The history of creation is documented in the opening chapters of Genesis. Chapter one details how God created the heavens and the earth and every living thing; and throughout the chapter we repeatedly encounter this simple claim: “God saw that it was good.” By his own assessment, everything God made was good.
Yet in Genesis 2 we discover something that is out of keeping with this assessment. For God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (2:18). This is the first “not good” we encounter in the Bible, and it relates to the loneliness, or solitariness, of man before the creation of woman.
All the other creatures existed as male and female and had been encouraged by God to be fruitful and multiply. Adam must have been particularly conscious of this when God brought the birds and the beasts to him to see what he would call them. Each animal had its companion, but he had none.
Furthermore, all the animals Adam inspected and named were utterly unlike him in body and mind. Not one of them bore the image of God, so not one of them could talk or reason or laugh or worship with him. Not one! Hence, scripture declares that in the process of Adam’s inspection, “there was not found a helper fit for him.”
This situation was not good—not in the sense that it was evil, but in the sense that it was incomplete and therefore imperfect. So to bring matters to completion, “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 which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (2:21-22). God made woman because it is not good for man to be alone, and because only woman corresponds to man in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual make-up. Matthew Henry once made a marvellous comment about the special creation of Eve: “Woman was taken out of man; not out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled underfoot; but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.”
This, no doubt, is one of the reasons Genesis documents the specific details of how Eve was made. The creation of woman was not an afterthought on God’s part. On the contrary, it was always his intention to bring his creation to completion by making woman. By graciously revealing the particulars of Eve’s creation, God intended to teach us the uniqueness and preciousness of woman in relation to man. He wanted to teach us that men and women are made for each other, and without one another they are alone, and this is not good. He further wanted to teach us that he is the one who changed what was not good into what is very good. He is the one who sets the lonely in families.
When God brought Eve to Adam, Adam exclaimed, “At last! This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! At last—this is what I’ve been looking and longing for—someone like me, someone without fur or feathers or horns or hooves, someone with reason and affection and will. Oh, at last!” There has never been in history a woman as admired and as desired as Eve when she stood before Adam in all her radiant beauty, the last and the best of God’s creation.
The First Marriage
Having acted as father of the bride by bringing Eve to Adam to be his lawful wedded wife, God next acted as marriage celebrant by explaining the nature of marriage to the bride and groom: “For this cause”—because woman was made from man as a worthy companion for him—
“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (2:24, NASB).
We learn from Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19 that God actually spoke these words to Adam and Eve. For in response to their question about divorce, the Lord Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” God said that. The Lord Jesus treated the opening chapters of Genesis as history, not allegory; and he confirms that God presided at the marriage of Adam and Eve. How astonishing—to think, that God not only instituted marriage, but also conducted the first wedding!
We could be forgiven for feeling envious of Adam and Eve. What a privilege, to have God himself officiate at your wedding! Yet there is a sense in which God did and does the same for all couples. Jesus went on to say about marriage in general, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Through their vows and intimacies, a husband and wife are joined together by God so that “they are no longer two but one flesh”. Even to this day, God is the unseen celebrant at every marriage.
Illustrations of God’s Concern
Marriage is the means by which God sets the lonely in families, and it is a blessing he confers upon all people. However, God is particularly interested in the marriages of his chosen people—so much so that he even assists them to find the right marriage partner. Two examples from scripture illustrate this.
The first involves Isaac. Genesis 24 records how Abraham acted to find a wife for his son, Isaac. One of the things that prompted him to do this was the fact that Sarah, his wife and Isaac’s mother, had recently died, and Isaac was missing her. He was lonely. So Abraham told his servant to go to his home country to take a wife for Isaac from among his relatives. He assured the servant, God “will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” The servant went and by prayer and providence found Rebekah, a beautiful young virgin who was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. After conferring with her relatives, he took Rebekah back to Isaac and explained how God had guided him to her. “Then Isaac brought her into the tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”
God in his infinite goodness gave Rebekah to Isaac, and vice versa. But note the part that Abraham played in the matter. He lived a life of faith that was pleasing to God, and so he was sensitive to God’s will. He was sensitive, too, to his son’s need for a wife, and appreciated that it was not good for him to be alone. He knew, however, that it was not God’s will for his son to marry one of the pagan, Canaanite women, so he made arrangements to find a suitable woman from his own, God-fearing kindred. And in all this he trusted God for guidance.
In so far as it is appropriate in our own cultural context, Christian parents should follow Abraham’s example. We should walk closely with God and seek his will. We should be concerned about our children’s choice of marriage partners and seek to guide them where we can. So, for example, we should warn our children not to get emotionally entangled with the children of Canaan, but to seek a spouse from among the children of God. We should teach them that, if they are Christians, God expressly forbids them to marry non-Christians: “Do not be mismated with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). But we should encourage them to focus not on the restriction but on the liberty that the Lord allows them in the choice of a marriage partner: “she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). And when we see our children suffering that strange, strong loneliness that often encroaches with adulthood, we should remind them and ourselves that God delights to set the lonely in families. And all the while we should put our trust in the Lord and ask him both to make his particular will known to our children and to make them responsive to his will.
Another instance of God guiding a person to find the right marriage partner can be found in the life of Ruth. God’s guidance on this occasion was more providential than miraculous, but it was no less certain for all that. The biblical account of Ruth begins with Naomi, a Jewish woman who left Bethlehem with her husband and two sons during a famine. They travelled to the country of Moab, where they settled. During the ten years Naomi lived in Moab, her husband died, her two sons married Moabite women, then they also died. So Naomi was bereft of her men folk and left with two daughters-in-law, one of whom was Ruth. Having decided to return to Bethlehem, Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and find new husbands. But Ruth refused. She said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Here speaks a young woman whose life had been touched and transformed by the living God—a woman who in “the hidden person of the heart” was adorned “with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). So Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem, where through divine providence she met and won the favour of Boaz, a godly man whom she later discovered was one of her nearest relatives on her deceased husband’s side. Guided by wise advice from Naomi, Ruth explained her situation to Boaz, who immediately set about to marry her. In this way, God comforted Ruth with a husband.
For Christians who are single and desire to be married, the story of Ruth confirms the importance of putting God first in everything. When Ruth determined to leave her own people and abandon their false gods in order to care for her mother-in-law and worship the living God, she seemed doomed to remain single. What hope had a Moabite widow of finding a husband in Israel? But Ruth’s hope lay in the Lord. Before there was any thought of marriage between them, Boaz commended Ruth for her behaviour, exclaiming, “The LORD recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” And indeed the Lord did reward her for her faith and her faithfulness. Ruth reminds single people that the Lord honours those who honour him (1 Samuel 2:30). Like Ruth, the unmarried should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and in all likelihood a spouse will be given to them as well, for their heavenly Father knows that they need such a companion.
God desires to set the lonely in families because he knows that it is not good for a person to be alone. And he is able to set the lonely in families because he made humans male and female, and ordained marriage for their mutual good. And he acts to set the lonely in families because he helps his people to find the right partner, then joins them together permanently on their wedding day.
From Partners to Parents
Having joined husband and wife together, the Lord does a remarkable thing through them and for them. He gives their sexual pleasure procreative power and turns their partnership into parenthood. Note what scripture says concerning the three couples we have considered: Firstly, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man-child with the help of the LORD’” (Genesis 4:1). Secondly, “Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her” (Genesis 25:21-22). Thirdly, “Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son” (Ruth 4:13).*
Here—in the mystery of conception and birth—we see another way by which God sets the lonely in families. Through the institution of marriage and the intimacy of sexual love, he gives children to married couples. The love that husband and wife enjoy with each other is intensified and multiplied when their partnership broadens into parenthood. Children mitigate (the actual or potential) loneliness of their parents. A mother with an infant at her breast does not feel lonely. A father with a toddler in tow feels himself in good company. When he sets the lonely in families, God often deals their loneliness a double blow—giving both a spouse and a child (or two!) to love and to be loved by.
Of course, God gives not only babies to parents, but also parents to babies. God saves infants from loneliness by ensuring that they are born into families. There have been cases of infants dying in orphanages despite the fact that they had received adequate care. The reason they died was because they lacked love. They pined away for want of cuddles and caresses and kisses. A child without parents is a lonely creature. But in his abundant goodness God sets the lonely in families. Every child born to loving parents is evidence of this.
But what about the child who is bereft of both parents? What about the married person who loses a spouse through death or divorce? What about the single person who longs for but never finds a spouse? The orphaned, the widow-ed, the divorced, the un-willingly unmarried: how is King David’s statement relevant to them?
To this point, we have focused on human families, families formed through marriage and birth. But there is another family that God has prepared for the lonely. It is his own family, a family formed supernaturally by the Holy Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ, a family made up of believers, a family known as “the Church”. God’s greatest desire is to set the lonely in this family.
The reason there is loneliness in the world is because things have gone wrong between us and God. When God made us in his likeness, he intended to have a loving relationship with us. But because of the wrong things we have desired and done, the fellowship and friendship between us and God has been destroyed. Our sins have made a separation between ourselves and our God. And this separation causes loneliness.
Furthermore, we have fallen out not only with God but also with one another. Sin is essentially an attack on relationships, both human and divine. Because of sin, we are lonely not only from want of fellowship with our Creator, but also from want of fellowship with our neighbour.
Even those who happily belong to human families experience times of loneliness arising from conflict or insensitivity between family members. And even the best of human families cannot make up for the absence of friendship with God. With or without a family, being godless always involves a sense of God-loss, and this is felt as loneliness.
But almighty God has done something wonderful to set the lonely into his own family. He sent his Son to earth to save us. The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away our sins. For our sake, he was forsaken by his Father, suffering all the loneliness of sin. By doing this, he removed the cause of the separation between God and us. He experienced our alienation from God so that we might experience his intimacy with God.
When we turn from our sin and trust in Jesus, we are “born anew” by God’s Spirit into God’s everlasting family. God himself becomes our Father, his Son becomes our unique and glorious Brother, and all other Christians become our brothers and sisters. Belonging to this family is the ultimate remedy for loneliness. Indeed, here all people, regardless of their earthly family status, can find abiding companionship, encouragement and comfort.
Whether by marriage or birth or new birth, God sets the lonely in families. How remarkable! But then … it’s just like him, isn’t it?
*Incidentally, these statements reveal four important truths about sex and procreation. Firstly, sexual intimacy rightly belongs to husband and wife. Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Boaz and Ruth, knew each other sexually after their marriage, not before. Secondly, because sex belongs to marriage, children belong to marriage. It is husband and wife who make the best father and mother. Children are best served by parents who are lovingly and lawfully committed to one another for life. Thirdly, human life begins at conception. Scriptures traces the lives of Eve, Rebekah and Ruth’s children back to conception. Fourthly, God is personally involved in the creation of each human life. Eve got her son with the help of the Lord. The Lord healed Rebekah so that she could conceive. The Lord gave Ruth conception.