Monday, December 13, 2010

Separation from God

One of the pillars of Campus Crusade-style evangelism is the fact that our sin--disobedience--separates us from God. How does this happen? My natural response--and I imagine what many other Christians believe--is that God rejects us, casts us from His presence, if we're tainted by sinful guilt. But I disagree. I think that the reverse is the case--sin's separating us from God is not initiated by God, but by us. The truth is that, sinful to the core as we are, there is no way we can bear to the presence of a perfect and holy God. This is hard to explain to those who haven't really felt convicted of their sin--not just regretting the consequences of something, but actually being hit hard by the guilt of it.

If you haven't felt this kind of guilt about God, maybe you've seen it in other relationships. When you've really wronged a friend and you know it, you're almost afraid to see them because of the guilt it brings up. Now imagine (just hypothetically) your friend is 100% perfect--humble, always asks how you're doing first, never makes these kinds of mistakes and all that. It makes whatever you did seem even worse by comparison. Now imagine your friend also happens to be the omnipotent God of the universe and you start to see how the guilt of sin can lead us to separate ourselves from God.

The Bible has evidence for this. In the Fall, God does send Adam and Eve away from His presence for disobeying Him, but look at what happens before that. When they hear God coming, they hide! (Genesis 3:8) Before he banishes them, they try to get away from Him. Again, look at the response of pretty much anyone who has ever had an encounter with God in the Bible. Isaiah "is ruined" by the sight of the Lord on His throne (Isaiah 6:5). John falls at Christ's feet "as though dead". (Revelation 1:17) When God descends on Mount Sinai, the Israelites are terrified and beg Moses to speak to Him for them (Exodus 20:18-19). Moses is apparently cool enough with God to see His back, but after this encounter the Israelites were afraid to look at him, so much so that he had to put on a veil around them (Exodus 34). When Simon Peter sees Jesus (who, by all appearances, was an ordinary guy) perform a miracle, he begs Him to leave. (Luke 5:1-11)

God certainly doesn't seem to be the one trying to get away from us in all these stories. The common theme seems to be that when people see how impossibly great and glorious God is, their thoughts immediately turn to how low and inglorious they are by the standard He sets by His very being. The essence of the Gospel is that even if we try to run and hide from God, He is actively pursuing us, looking to be in relationship with us as  He intended. And because of Jesus' death paying the penalty, the guilt of our sin doesn't have to keep us away from Him. He offers a fresh start, if we'll only reach up and accept it.

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