Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 42 : The Strength of Two
Eccles 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I find there are times when I am challenged by my casual approach to Scripture. When I first looked at these verses, I thought, “Whatever made Solomon jump to thinking about companionship?” and it wasn’t until I looked again at the context that I realised that these verses flow on in small section that starts, “Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone” (v.7,8) and yesterday we considered the frustration of that man as he worked with no one to hand it on to. But now Solomon thinks on and essentially declares, “It’s not good to be alone.”
He lists the benefits of not being alone. First two working together can achieve far more than two individuals working alone. Second, if one stumbles and falls, it is good to have another alongside to help you up. Third, when it’s cold at night, it is good to have one to warm you. Fourth, when you come under attack it is good to have another alongside you to stand against the attacker with you.
Yes, these are the obvious benefits of not walking through life alone. It may refer to friendship, it may refer to having a partner in business or it may refer to having a spouse. There are many circumstances in life where two together are better than being alone, yet sadly in our day, I believe loneliness is growing. With the fragmentation of families there are individuals separated off from the group and that makes the loneliness even harder. In a permissive age there are those who have been encouraged to express their difference but who have found that doing that has isolated them from many others. I was part of a conversation only yesterday that was talking about tattoos which have become very common, and yet despite that, they still act – in many people’s eyes at least – as a brand that separates out and declares that this is a certain sort of person who is wanting! So many things in modern life, it seems, separate and divide and cause loneliness.
Possibly one of the most obvious ways in our modern society is what used to be called ‘courting’. How alien that concept seems to have become in a world where it seems it is common to not even wait for the third date to end up in bed. Yet sexual intimacy has proved to be elusive for many. Sex isn’t necessarily intimate; it can be purely exploitive, and we feel used. The excitement of once-forbidden fruit lasts only a while and then the couple realise they are miles apart; there is inner loneliness, even though there is outer closeness.
The advice I used to give to young people, and still do if they are willing to listen, is develop your relationship in three slow stages. First of all get to know each other by just being with each other, talking and sharing and finding out about each other, i.e. build the social aspect of the relationship first. Second, if the couple are Christians (and if they’re not I have no hope for their long-term relationship, and if one is and the other isn’t, generally, don’t walk this path together) then develop your spiritual relationships together – read the Bible together, pray together, go to church and worship together, and seek God’s will together and serve God together. Then, and only then, if these two facets of your relationship together indicate you are compatible, you talk about life-long commitment and only when you are committed for life, do you develop the physical side of your relationship.
Our modern society is full of young people who are essentially lonely, even though they go to clubs together, bed together and whatever else together. I have been there and I have seen it and that is how it is for so many young people who are desperate for closeness, desperate for real intimacy, desperate for trust and desperate to find real love, which is all about commitment as well as feelings, and yet the way that the world proclaims is not bringing home the goods!
I said as an aside earlier, and you may not have liked it, that I have no hope for a long term relationship without God. Yes, there are married couples who have lived it out for decades without God, but increasingly that is becoming a rarity with the pressures of modern life. Solomon’s enigmatic final phrase hints at the truth: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What is the third strand? God, of course! With God genuinely in your relationship you have a real fighting chance of have a good life together ahead.
But why do Christians get divorced, I hear you ask, before I finish. Consider Jesus’ words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt 19:18). If we have allowed ourselves to get into a place where we have been hardened (and it may only be one in the partnership) so that we are no longer open to hear God’s counsel, either directly or through a counsellor/leader, then yes we will end up divorcing, but that is a path where we have hardened God out of our experience, which is why just now I spoke of having God genuinely in your relationship. These are serious matters in these days of anguish and loneliness.