There’s a haunting scene in the newest season of The Walking Dead that has stuck with me. After being captured by enemies, Daryl, a beloved character, is placed in a small cell. He is fed—and viewers are intentionally shown—dog food that is haphazardly spread on white bread. The dehumanizing effects of captivity are well portrayed. His captors want him to understand: he is not human, he’s something less, and he’s not worthy of human meals. His rights are no more than a dog in a cage.
But it is not the diet alone that distinguishes humanity from beasts. More brutal than his daily lunch is his unrelenting isolation. The dirty, concrete cell is shown to be devoid of all light. Alone with nothing but his thoughts, his tormentors deprive him of any sense of dignity or community.
The detrimental effects of solitary confinement are well-documented. Yet, it is not uncommon for God’s people to live their lives as if they are ignorant of his Words: “It is not good that man be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
Marriage and Family Are Good
After God created all forms of animals to roam the land, sky, and seas, he makes man in his own image. However, none of the animals were a fit companion for this solitary man. So he makes another human utilizing parts from Adam himself, like him but different—complimentary.
God gives us the gift of lifelong companionship to combat the not-goodness of being alone. But companionship in marriage is not the only gift God gives to prevent aloneness. Shortly after joining the two in marriage he commands them: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
While marriage is not insufficient in itself, love often multiplies and expands beyond the initial parties. Similar to how God himself, lacking nothing, created others to share in his love (1 Jn. 4:8), he calls man who bears his image to multiply as well.
God gives us the gift of children who will outlive us and further our impact. Or as the psalmist puts it: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Ps. 127:4).
Marriage and Family Aren’t Guaranteed
So far my examples have been idealistic. While marriage is good, it is not promised to everyone. While children are good, the effects of living in a fallen world sometimes includes couples who are barren. Tragically, sometimes parents end up burying the children that were intended to outlive and out influence them.
As good as spouses and children are, they are common graces. A good marriage or a good family is not necessarily a distinguishing mark of God’s blessing. It is possible that a righteous man may lose his wife or family, and a wicked man’s family may prosper.
While marriage and family are important, they are not ultimate. While they are excellent, they are not eternal (Mt. 22:30). The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is.
The Church Is Better
The now and not yet of God’s kingdom is a difficult concept to grasp. Graeme Goldsworthy offers a helpful way of thinking about God’s kingdom: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
Using this definition, God’s kingdom was fully realized in Eden, but then shattered after humans rebelled against him. This way of thinking also helps us to make sense of all the times Jesus refers to the kingdom during his earthly ministry. It is in our midst (Lk. 17:21) where people are willfully submissive to God. This is why the Church’s importance cannot be overstated.
In the Church, we get the clearest picture of the kingdom of God before it is fully realized. In it, people joyfully submit to God in worship and reverence. Sure, the Church is made up of various marriages and families, but it is of greater importance and longevity. In its walls, today’s families are united with those of some 2000 years ago as they place themselves under God’s rule as the benevolent father who has adopted a family for eternal life (Eph. 1:3-5). The saints perfected in heaven look down upon those being prepared for a future day where they will join them (Eph. 1:10).
The Church is also a home and a refuge for those that do not have spouses, children, or families. We are tasked to take care of the orphaned, the widowed, the barren, and the unmarried (Js. 1:27). And it is a primary sign of true religion.
The Beauty of the Bride
If marriage and offspring were essential, then Jesus would be less than perfect because he had neither. The profundity of this is full of warnings as well as encouragement. Warnings for those who deny the necessity of life in community. The “one anothers” of Scripture, as well as our commission to make disciples are impossible for the hermit. Jesus does not call hermits, but disciples who will make, mature, and multiply other disciples. This warning is just as needed for the introverted layperson as for the pastor that is tempted to neglect relationships in favor of study.
The encouragement is for those who desire a spouse or a family but don’t yet have one. For the single among us, they have an example in Jesus who lived a full life while never participating in the covenant of marriage. Similarly, the infertile inherit a family that transcends the bounds of their own blood as they are absorbed into the Church family that was bought by the blood of Christ (1 Pt. 1:18;19). Additionally, they imitate Christ when they adopt children and raise them as their own (Gal. 4:5).
The Kingdom Feast
Jesus further models for us how life in community is to be lived out. He chooses twelve disciples. Our influence in discipling relationships cannot be spread too thin or it will decrease in potency. He then shares life with them. The humanity of Scripture is worth noting here. My wife laments that so much of modern television and movies neglect to show the characters eating. (Even more lamentable is the pain they go through to show them fornicating—it is clear what appetites drive ratings.) But Scripture, as truth, accurately portrays humans as social creatures in need of sustenance. There is no shortage of bread broken among Jesus and his disciples.
Food, perhaps more than anything else, brings people together. “The Last Meeting” would be far less memorable in our minds than “The Last Supper.” It was over a Passover meal that Jesus chose to reveal the things of ultimate importance (1 Cor. 15:3) to his inner community of twelve disciples. A master teacher, he utilizes the meal as a prop to appeal to the kinesthetic, and visual learners, as well as the auditory ones. He would leave them, but not alone, they would have each other. No, instead he would be alone. Unaccompanied by his community, he would go to the cross.
Worse yet, he’d be forsaken by his Father (Mt. 27:46). We get a glimpse into one of the greatest mysteries of the faith when the Son suffers the Father’s wrath on behalf of sinful mankind. There, on the cross, he’d be stripped of his dignity (Heb. 12:2) as well as his clothes. His blood would be drained on behalf of humanity, and he’d be exposed to the elements, thirst (Jn. 19:28), and hunger. All to join us together as a redeemed community (Jn. 19:26; 27) under his lordship.
His last supper foreshadowed all these events. Even his betrayer, was welcomed at his table. He’d die alone, so that those who were once his enemies (Rom. 5:10) would not have to dine alone. He’d give us a glimpse into the future fully realized kingdom where unlikely guests are welcomed into the great feast (Mt. 22:10).
There at the feast, in the fully realized kingdom of God, we will dine on the finest food and drink the best wine (Jn. 2:10). But better than the food will be the fellowship of the redeemed with the Redeemer. For the distinguishing mark of the kingdom is not food (Rom. 14:17), but love. Solomon’s wisdom tells us that an unsatisfying meal with love is better than a great feast where there is no love (Prov. 15:17).
In other words, there is a fate worse than eating dog food—eating alone.
Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Forest Hill, Maryland. Prior to that, he served at a church plant in Troy, New York for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is raising an army of toddlers. He blogs at Family Life Pastor.
You can read all of Sean’s articles here.