Isolation has a rich history as a theme often explored by authors, directors, and teachers. In elementary school I remember reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell about a young girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast. A few years later I read Robinson Crusoe, the classic work of Daniel Defoe, and thought more deeply about the challenge of remaining isolated from society. In more recent memory, Tom Hanks starred in the movie Castaway, following the same theme within a modern context. In each of these works, the main character worked at addressing despair, overcoming the challenges of daily survival, and accepting the reality of isolation from the rest of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, with its shelter in place orders, distancing measures, and social anxieties created a different type of isolation, but in all of these cases, whether meteorological or medical, a physical event created long-term isolation in dramatic fashion. None of these presents an enviable situation. However, the Bible does speak of a situation where isolation does prove preferable.
In Proverbs 21 wisdom recounts, “Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, Than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Prov. 21:9) and then, “Better to dwell in the wilderness, Than with a contentious and angry woman” (Prov. 21:19). Few attitudes create a more miserable environment than the person intent on arguing, the person who finds fault easily, or the person so moody that others approach with trepidation even about small things. This proves true whether that individual is male or female. A quarrelsome person who picks fights and pushes buttons for sport does not appreciate social interaction nor does he respect people even within his close inner circle, making every conversation a potential fight and every circumstance a potential cause for flight.
Therefore, in Proverbs the writer describes isolation—in a particular situation—as a great improvement, a blessing, and a benefit. However, the point made depends first upon appreciating the difficulties, challenges, and anxieties of being alone. In the beginning, God recognized that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18); therefore, our LORD recognized the difficulties of isolation and the need for social interaction, especially in marriage. And while the implications and depth of His pronouncement in Genesis are many and deep, the contrast with the current proverbs in view is powerful. If God recognized the problem of social isolation and designed marriage as the first and best way to overcome isolation (but then indicated that under some circumstances isolation remains preferable), then the implications of the contrast are important even if they are somewhat severe. His point? It is better not to marry than to marry the wrong person. This truth remains difficult to appreciate amidst the throes of youthful romance but proves essential in ensuring a person’s long-term well-being. People often prepare themselves to marry the best version of their partner, forgetting that they must live with the worst version as well (Matt. 19:6-9). Therefore, until someone has prepared himself or herself to find peace in Christ and live peaceably with others, that person is unprepared for the responsibilities of marriage, and that failure will affect an entire family for a lifetime. God—in His wisdom—has always known that there are far worse things than isolation.