Those of you who have been suspicious of my political leanings may be surprised that I have recently been reading a book by a Republican senator and it’s a doozy. It’s entitled Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal by Senator Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska. He has captured well, I think, the deep divide in our country and, although it is not written from the perspective of the church, it has great relevance for the church in our culture today.

I have no interest in debating with anyone the relative merits of positions on either side of our great cultural divide. I do observe, however, that in churches (like ours) that allow differences of opinion, that divide appears to be as wide as in the country as a whole. That is true, even when you take into account that we are in one of the reddest states in the Union and that “white evangelicals” are broadly supportive of one side.

The issue that piques my interest as a pastor is a result of the fallout from this division: loneliness. Sasse observes that loneliness is in “epidemic proportions”. The effect that loneliness has on the human body is so great that researchers are surmising that is it our country’s greatest health crisis.This crisis is exacerbated by the replacement of real friends with virtual ones and a complete paradigm shift in the workforce that is leaving people disconnected even from their co-workers.

You have probably seen that the average American lifespan has decreased for three years in a row. One of the causes is that many more are dying of drug overdoses (something that Sasse calls a “disease of despair”) annually than died in the entire Vietnam War. Loneliness has to be a contributing factor to this terrible situation.

I commend the book to you for your own edification and for many more ways that it suggests we work on bridging the cultural divide, but for now, let’s focus on loneliness. If you saw someone who was lonely and you recognized how debilitating that condition can be, and if it were in your power, wouldn’t you try to do what you could to help them? And if you knew that there was someone who could be their friend, even if others failed or were inconsistently there, wouldn’t that be the person to whom you would want to introduce them? You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

You and I have a friend — as the old hymn says, “What a friend” — who can enter their lives and put an end to loneliness. This is done through the work of the Holy Spirit in ways that we don’t understand. However, it also occurs in a way that we can understand — through us. As the body of Christ on earth, you and I can be friends to the lonely. But first we’ve got to convince them that we mean well.

If Christians are seen as narrow-minded, judgmental fundamentalists, it’s likely we will find that people prefer their loneliness to our attempts at relationship. On the other hand, if we model the love of Jesus, accepting people as they are — even if who they are is radically different from ourselves — then we have a chance both to be a friend and to introduce them to the Friend they truly need.

I have no delusions about easy steps to healing our nation’s differences. But I have every confidence in the power of Christ to work miracles in the lives of individuals if they are ever introduced. How about you and I make the introductions?