Alienation or Separation?

The church makes a big thing about our separation from God, and uses scripture to back up the notion that our sin causes God to be angry with us, and to reject us. I want to explore that a little, and see if there is an alternative way to look at it.

But first of all, let us consider the sunset. Seen from our perspective, the sun sinks into the western horizon, often quite spectacularly.

Sunset

Sunset over Morecambe Bay

That is a phenomenon that we observe. And it is followed, some hours later, by sunrise. And it appears to us as though the sun has ‘gone’ during those hours.

But if we take a (cosmic) step back, we can see that the phenomenon is entirely due to our point of view. Looked at from further away, we can see that the sun remains in place, and sunrise and sunset occur because the earth rotates - meaning that wherever you are standing on the earth, there are times when the sun is visible (which we call day), and other times when it isn’t (which we call night). Sunrise and sunset are ‘real’ when observed from our point of view standing on the earth, but not so much from the perspective of, say, someone standing on the moon.

And I propose that that is also the case with our ‘separation’ from God.

“How can that be?” You ask.

Let us look at a favourite passage with those advocating the idea that God has separated himself from us, on account of our sin, Isaiah 59:2.

But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

In fact, Isaiah rumbles on like this, angrily, right through to verse 15. It seems clear that God is most seriously displeased.

But, supposing we put those verses back into their context, by casting our net slightly wider.

Isaiah 59:1 says:

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.

This should instantly ring an alarm bell of some sort, regarding what comes in the next few verses. Yes, there’s all the stuff following on from verse 2, but God has already said that he isn’t impotent when it comes to salvation.

And then we reach verse 16, and the beginning of a promise from God that He will save:

He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.

We see that God decides to do something about the situation - in the form of sending the Messiah to become one of us and to show us that there is no separation. This culminates in verse 21:

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.

The key phrase here, when thinking about separation is this:

My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you,

What this means is that the alienation from God - which we feel - is something on our side and not on His side. Seen from His perspective, we have have alienated ourselves from Him, but he has not separated Himself from us; He is still there, still loving us - if we let Him.

Hopefully, now you can see why I started out with the sunset analogy - it’s a matter of which perspective you take - and of not assuming that the perspective from which you see the thing is the only possible perspective.

Another way to look at it, in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way is to recognise at our ‘separation’ from God is a bit like us covering our eyes and saying ‘We can’t see you so therefore you’re not there.’ That isn’t dissimilar to believing that the sun is ‘switched off’ when we can’t see it.

We alienate ourselves from God; God does not separate Himself from us - and the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof of that.

God bless you!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022