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EXISTENTIAL LONELINESS – AND THE LOCAL CHURCH
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).
Jesus said that two things would characterize the psychological state of the world at the end of history. First, He said there would be “distress of nations, with perplexity” (Luke 21:25). The Greek word translated “perplexity” comes from the root word “aporeō.” Dr. Strong said the word means, “to have no way out…to be at a loss (mentally)” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, number 639). Christ said that the generation before the end of this age would be under such severe psychological pressure that they would be perplexed, at a loss mentally, feeling that there is no way out of their hopeless condition. Second, Christ predicted, “Men’s hearts [will be] failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:26). Christ said that the generation in the last days would be terrified when they see “those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:26). The famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) spoke of modern man’s fears, feeling that there is “no way out,” in his play titled, “No Exit.”
In fact it was Jean-Paul Sartre who popularized “existentialism,” a philosophy of nihilism, the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in life. Existentialism is the pessimistic philosophy of hopelessness, which teaches that every person exists alone in a purposeless universe, without God, without hope, filled with anxiety.
Dr. Paul Chappell, in his book, Understanding the Times, said, “Are you troubled? Are you anxious? Does the evening news put worry into your heart? Do you find yourself concerned with [the] government…financial stability, future job markets, and your [future]?...Human perspective offers nothing but skepticism, frustration, and worry” (Paul Chappell, D.D., Understanding the Times, Striving Together Publications, 2010, p. xix).
Although I strongly disagree with Billy Graham on “decisionism” and some other subjects, he was absolutely right when he spoke on Luke 21:25 in his book World Aflame (Doubleday and Company, 1965). Billy Graham said, “There has never been a time when people were so on edge, so easily hurt and offended. The psychiatrists are so busy that they themselves have nervous breakdowns as they try frantically to patch up our jangled nerves. Homes crumble under the devastating pressures of modern life…families are actually being betrayed by their own members. We are surely in danger in this generation of psychological breakdown” (ibid., p. 217).
Did you read about that young student at the University of Texas a few days ago? (September 29, 2010). Colton Joshua Tooley was a nineteen-year-old sophomore math major at the University. He was described as “brilliant,” and “respectful.” He came from a good family. But Colton Joshua Tooley, wearing a ski mask, “opened fire Tuesday with an assault rifle on the University of Texas campus before fleeing into a library and fatally shooting himself” (The Associated Press, Wednesday, September 29, 2010). Thankfully no one else was killed. Please pray for his family. But what about Colton Tooley himself? Did you know that suicide is now the number two cause of death among young people between the ages of 18 and 25? Many don’t go that far, yet most young people I speak with feel there is “no way out.” They are “at a loss” mentally, feeling there is “no exit” from their hopeless condition. And the main emotion many young people feel is loneliness. Like so many others, I suspect that Colton Joshua Tooley was very lonely. Surrounded by thousands of other students on that college campus, I think he felt utterly alone, with no one he could really count on.
According to Dr. Leonard Zunin, a prominent psychiatrist, mankind’s worst problem is loneliness. And psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said, “The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison house of his aloneness,” to escape from loneliness! And there is no place more lonely for young people than a big city like Los Angeles, or a college campus, like Pasadena City College, Cal State L.A., or the University of Texas, where Colton Joshua Tooley committed suicide a few days ago. He was so lonely he felt he could not go on, even though he was surrounded by thousands of other students. How about you? Did you ever feel that no one really cares – that no one really understands you – that they could care less about how you feel?
The hopeless, existential loneliness most young people feel has many sources – the fragmenting of the family, especially among our Chinese young people, other Asians, and even Hispanics. Your parents are either separated or working such long hours that you hardly ever see them. They just aren’t there for you when you need them most. You try to reach out by “twittering,” using “Facebook,” or sending endless e-mails, and making hundreds of cell-phone calls. But it’s all very superficial. You’re talking into a machine, not face-to-face with a real person. No wonder, as communication technology increases it doesn’t help you escape from the terrible feeling of what my Chinese pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, called “youth’s loneliness.”
And what about the churches? I’m sure Colton Joshua Tooley went to church. His parents gave him the middle name of Joshua, a famous man in the Bible. But whatever church Colton Joshua Tooley went to failed to cure his loneliness. Was it a Baptist church? Was it some other evangelical church? Most evangelical churches have now stopped having Sunday evening services. They think it’s “progressive” – but they forgot that young, unmarried people like Colton Joshua Tooley need a church that cares enough for them to have fellowship on Sunday night – and Saturday night as well! My pastor at the Chinese church, Dr. Timothy Lin, often said, “Make the church your second home. That will help cure youth’s loneliness.” I completely agree with him! That’s why our church has something for young people four nights a week! We are here for you!
God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and shed His Blood to cleanse us from sin. Jesus rose physically from the dead for our justification, and to give us the new birth and eternal life. But Jesus never wrote a book. And Jesus never started a school. The one and only institution Jesus created on earth was the local church. Christ said,
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
He built the church for you – to help you escape from the hopelessly nihilistic existential loneliness of this vain and empty world!
The church that Christ built in Jerusalem is our model. What a happy and joyful place to be – at the church Christ built in Jerusalem!
“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46-47).
That’s the kind of church we want to be! We are a church where we “break bread,” having a happy meal together at the close of every Sunday morning, and every Sunday evening service! We are a church where the Gospel of Christ is central, where we tell the good news of Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, and His resurrection, to give us life, in every service! We are a church that eats “their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” every Sunday morning and evening. If you keep coming to church here, you will be fed – spiritual food, and tasty meals as well! That’s why we say without apology – “Why be lonely? Come home to church! Why be lost? Come home to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” Please stand and sing that little song I wrote, “Come Home to Dinner.” It is sung to that old country and Western tune, “On the Wings of a Dove.” Sing the third stanza!
The big city people just don’t seem to care;
They’ve little to offer and no love to spare.
But come home to Jesus and you’ll be aware,
There’s food on the table and friendship to share!
Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!
(“Come Home to Dinner” by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.;
to the tune of “On the Wings of a Dove”).
But please remember, even our church can’t really help you overcome existential loneliness and despair if you just come once in a while. Make a plan to be here every Sunday. Be in church every Sunday. Take time to study for your midterms now. Don’t wait until the last minute and miss church. That’s no way to start the Christian life! Study every day. Then you won’t have to miss church when midterms come.
In his world-famous Halley’s Bible Handbook (Regency, 1965 edition, p. 819), Dr. Henry H. Halley said, “All Christian people ought to go to church every Sunday.” Do it! Come home to church every Sunday! Sing the second stanza of “Come Home to Dinner”!
The fellowship’s sweet and your friends will be here;
We’ll sit at the table, our hearts filled with cheer.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!
Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 21:25-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Times Like These” (by Ruth Caye Jones, 1944).