“I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother’s sons” (Psalm 69:8).
Loneliness and rejection are two factors that cause untold unhappiness in the lives of thousands of people. In fact, a major challenge to a happy and fulfilled life is loneliness. When people are lonely, they suffer. Loneliness is painful. Suffering from the pain of loneliness is like suffering from physical pain.
Psychologists differ on the reasons or the causes for loneliness, but most agree that depression, the feeling of rejection, and the lack of social life are the primary causes of loneliness. For people to be happy they need to develop strong relationships with friends and members of one’s own family. People need to know that they belong; they need to know that in times of trouble they will receive from their friends and from the members of their own family the support they need to cope with their problems.
In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam uses bowling to explain why more and more people choose not to be involved socially with other people. Putnam says that although the number of people who bowl has increased in the last two decades, the number of people who participate in bowling leagues has decreased.
Many people are afraid of developing intimate bonds with other people because, in the end, they are afraid of being hurt, they are afraid of not being loved, of not being needed, of being rejected, of being left alone. People who bowl alone do so because they are afraid of the pain of loneliness even when they refuse to acknowledge it.
Psalm 69 is generally classified by scholars as a lament in which the psalmist comes to God presenting his situation. He is an individual who has been confronting a hostile community who opposes him and ridicules him. The hostile world in which the psalmist lived ridiculed him and made him the subject of their mocking songs.
The psalmist feels himself surrounded by a hostile crowd who hates him and does things to harm him. They seek to destroy him by accusing him falsely. He said, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely” (Psalm 69:4). His enemies are like the hairs of his head, so many that no one could count them.
They accuse him of stealing, but these are groundless accusations. He said, “They make me repay what I did not steal” (Psalm 69:4 NET). The prophet Jeremiah experienced the same feeling of rejection and loneliness. Jeremiah said, “I am hated everywhere I go. I have not lent money to anyone and I have not borrowed from anyone. Yet all of these people are treating me with contempt” (Jeremiah 15:10).
The group of people that sits at the gate of the city, people who are influential in their community are the ones mocking the psalmist: “Those who sit in the gate speak against me” (Psalm 69:12). For influential people in the city, those who are faithful to God and seek to live according to his ways, a faithful person like the psalmist is an annoying person, he is the one whom they reject and despise. They even mock him with songs: “drunkards mock me in their songs” (Psalm 69:12 NET).
The psalmist is being ridiculed because of his commitment to Yahweh. He said, “It is for your sake that I have borne reproach” (Psalm 69:7). He was also being ridiculed for his love for the temple, the house of his God, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me” (Psalm 69:9).
The public shame and the humiliation the psalmist had to suffer because of the criticism and the false accusations against him, was too much for the members of his family and for his friends. The psalmist became a stranger to his kindred, his relatives: “I have become a stranger to my brethren.” To them, he is like a stranger, someone that they do not know. Even his own brothers, “the sons of my mother,” do not want to have anything to do with him, “I have become an alien, a foreigner to my mother’s sons” (Psalm 69:8).
The rejection by his friends and family caused much pain and loneliness to the psalmist: “But I am afflicted and in pain” (Psalm 69:29). The loneliness of the psalmist can be seen in his words. He is lonely because his own brothers, his relatives, and even the people in his community have abandoned him; the rejection is too painful for him to bear alone. So, he turns to God.
Out of his deep distress, the psalmist prays to God. In order to find a solution to his desperate situation, he fasts and prays, but when he fasts before the Lord, he is insulted, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so” (Psalm 69:10). As a public sign of his contrite heart and his dependence on God, the psalmist puts on sackcloth, but when he did so, he was ridiculed, “When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them” (Psalm 69:11).
The big problem for the psalmist was not the rejection by the people of his community, nor the rejection he suffered by his family and relatives. The psalmist’s biggest problem was his fear that maybe God had rejected him also. He cried to God, but there was no answer, “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched” (Psalm 69:3). The psalmist had been crying out to God for help with such intensity that his throat was dry. In desperation, the psalmist wept before God, but no help came, “My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me” (Psalm 69:3).
Rejection by friends and family is bad, but rejection by God is much worse. Without God, a person may be lonely in the companionship of many people. At times, when it seems that God has abandoned us, we feel helpless and hopeless. This is the time people tend to abandon God and lose their faith. It is at times of distress and desperation that the experience of the psalmist can help us. The psalmist presents himself as a faithful believer. It is as a faithful believer in distress that the psalmist can become a model for faithful believers today who are seeking God and placing their hope in him.
When the psalmist prayed and cried before God and found no answer, he did not rebel against God nor did he lose his faith in God. At a time when God seemed to be hiding from him, he said, “I keep praying to you” (Psalm 69:13 NLT). The psalmist believed that “in the time of your favor” (Psalm 69:13 NIV), that is, when it was God’s right time to answer his prayer, God would answer his prayer and deliver him. Speaking through Isaiah, the Lord said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). If the Lord would say similar words to the psalmist, the Lord would say, “my time is not your time.”
The confidence of the psalmist was based, not on his own goodness, but on God’s faithful love, God’s hesed. He prayed, “O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me” (Psalm 69:13). The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” is hesed. The word hesed can be translated as fidelity, faithfulness, commitment, covenant love. The psalmist knew that, because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and because of his merciful love, God would, in due time, vindicate him.
Loneliness can be the biggest threat to a happy life. However, whenever we feel that we are lonely because we think that God has abandoned us, we must remember that God is always with us, even when we feel that we are aliens and strangers in this world.
Whenever we feel abandoned by God, whenever we believe that we are facing our problems, our troubles, and our tribulations alone, we must remember the words of that beautiful hymn that says that we are never alone:
The world’s fierce winds are blowing,
Temptations are sharp and keen;
I feel a peace in knowing
My Savior stands between;
He stands to shield me from danger,
When earthly friends are gone,
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.
No, never alone,
No, never alone,
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000.