Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sin and Repentance II: Separated from God

[comment]  "Sin" just means an act that separates us from God (usually an immoral act). The concept of sin is theologically sound, even though for psychological reasons, we carry the emotional baggage which is socially implied in the word: rejection by God, by everybody because you are a "sinner". The idea of God being merciful only makes sense when we take into account that we return to Him as a source of unconditional love. Sin exists because of our free will....

Scott Morizot said...

If Christianity is true, then describing "sin" as something that separates us from God has the character of the absurd. As the Psalmist cries, there is nowhere we can go where God is not. As Paul declares in Athens, in God we live and move and have our being. As he writes in Colossians, everything subsists in and is contingent on Jesus.

Nor does sin have the solid character of an independent "act." Missing the mark involves action, of course, but it's more of a failure to reach the goal. How do we fail? Here the NT is abundantly clear. We fail to love. And because God is love, when we do so, we do attempt -- consciously or not -- to distance or separate ourselves from him.

But we can't actually be separated from God in any sense. If we could, we would simply cease to exist. But non-existence -- however much we strive for it -- lies beyond our power. Moreover, it's a struggle to even maintain the illusion of separation. God keeps pursuing and piercing our bubble. Adam (which simply means 'man') hides only to hear God asking him where he is. Jacob grasps for all he can hold only to find himself wrestling with God. Moses flees, but even on the remotest mountain encounters God. Israel is unfaithful, yet like Hosea with Gomer, God remains faithful and ultimately becomes the faithfulness of Israel in Christ.

Man turns from his only source of life and is enslaved by death. And even there, God follows him.

No, if it's possible for a human being to separate themselves from God, then Christianity is not true. And if it's not true, it's a waste of time and lives.

I'm not really trying to pick on anyone, but it seems to me that too many Christians today speak sincerely, but injudiciously.


  1. I alluded in a comment to the previous post to the universality of an "experience of separation from God", which is different than a reality of separation, different than a separation in which God turns his back on us for our sin or we turn our back on God with our sin (depending on where one sees the driver of that dynamic). Perhaps it is is the love of God that is the Be All, the glue that holds everything together, and when we are loving, when we exist in a constant state of love, we experience the unity with God. But when we are not loving, exist in an unawareness of Love, we perceive ourselves to be separate from others (including God).

    Just thinking out loud here... does this make sense?

  2. Beautiful, insightful,astute post. Thanks!

  3. I have used the term "separation from God" as something of a metaphor for the estrangement we feel from God: very much like in the story when Adam and Eve went and hid from God. No, we can't be apart from God spatially, but we can, and frequently are, apart relationally.

  4. Really insightful posts/comments the past few days. Thanks for sharing them!

  5. Wow. So much to think about. SO MUCH!

  6. But if it's a metaphor for the estrangement people feel from God, then I guess your saying that their feelings are all that has changed? God's mercy and desire for fellowship has not changed, but now man fears him and so rejects God's call to fellowship? I think you do mean more than
    "a metaphor for the estrangement we fell from God."

    I think you mean that God rejects us and drives us from the garden, don't you? I really want to know.

  7. Sandra, my pastor mused recently:

    "So by Adam's one sin, we are all condemned. The Word also says that by Jesus' one act of obedience, all are made righteous. But in reality, the church teaches that Adam is way more powerful than Jesus, that what he did condemns all humanity, but what Jesus did only saves a few."

    These sorts of ideas should occur to thinking people, and we should be able to discuss them. But the truth is, just bringing up the question will get you branded a heretic.

    Which is not bad company to keep, from my p.o.v. =)

  8. If we take the Parable of the Prodigal as an illustration of our relationship with God--God being the Father and we humans being either of the sons--it is significant to note that the Father never changes, he always provides for both sons in the manner of their choosing, he is always willing to enter into a more abundant relationship with either son, indeed the abundant relationship is always there throughout the story. There is never a rejection or condemnation nor even an admission of favor for either son, both are fully loved, accepted, rejoiced over, blessed.

  9. It is impossible to be separate from God, because we go around telling the world that God is perfect. So is our Heavenly Father is perfect, why would he leave his creation? Even after death?


  10. Ontonlogical separation is an impossibility--"in Him we live and move and have our being"; but, since Divine Love is suasive, not coercive or manipulative, we have been graciously granted the freedom to choose a relational separation. However, as the Jesus reveals in the Parable of the Prodigal Son [actually the Parable of the Loving Father], God waits and watches until our desire for separation plays itself out.


  11. New blog you might enjoy, friend:

  12. Shadow, thanks. The glance I gave it tells me I'll be going back for a deeper read.

  13. From the vantage point of other religions, the Christian emphasis upon sin looks strange. As a friendly Buddhist quip puts it, ‘You Christians must be very bad people—you’re always confessing your sins’” (Marcus J. Borg: The Heart of Christianity, p. 165). In my own fundamentalistic Christian youth, this was the entire emphasis. Salvation became more a necessity to escape hell than an expression of divine grace and love.

    Only as I have fired my old god and reconfigured many of my theological tenets have I found peace with myself and with God. Having been a Christian since childhood in the fundamentalistic sense of the term, I feel that I have experienced the transformation of being born again in just the last couple of months.

    Terry Gray

  14. So happy to read this, Terry! Live loved every day. =D SS

  15. Wow.

    Have you been reading Eastern Orthodox theology, or did you come up with this on your own? Because a lot of what you're describing in this post is very close to what we EO believe, and have believed for the last 2000 years - ancient Christianity.

    To take your comment on the Prodigal a little further, we believe this parable is a picture of the choice that lands us in heaven or hell - the Father offers the exact same love and life to all of us - He never changes. God's love is described as a fire, and for the elder son, his pride and anger caused him to experience the Father's love as burning, whereas the repentance of the younger son caused him to experience that exact same love as warmth and light. But the Father did not "cause" either of these things - it was the sons' choices. He laid out the exact same wonderful banquet before each of them. True Love can only be manifested in True Freedom, however, so a Loving Father will not force anyone to joyfully receive the banquet. The choice is entirely ours.

    God does not "send anyone to hell". But if we choose, we can experience His presence as Hell - it is completely our own choice. "It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful." - St. Isaac the Syrian

    To expound a little further about what you said about sin up there, as well, I'd like to share this: "I discovered, however, that sin is not the mere breaking of a rule, but is nothing less than the denial of love and, therefore, of life itself. When I discovered the Trinity, I also discovered the true nature of man, for man was created in the image of this God of Triune love. Man was created precisely as a personal being, one who is truly human only when he loves and is loved. Sin-missing the mark-is not a moral shortcoming or a failure to live up to some external code of behavior, but rather the failure to realize life as love and communion. As Christos Yannaras puts it, The fall arises out of man's free decision to reject personal communion with God and restrict himself to the autonomy and self-sufficiency of his own nature.13 In other words, sin is the free choice of individual autonomy. Irony of ironies: that which I had been touting all of these years as the basis of true religion-the absolute autonomy of the individual-turned out to be the Original Sin!

    An individual is not a person, but rather the antithesis of personhood and the denial of life. From this perspective, sin is repulsive to God not because it offends His honor, but because it is the denial of life itself, which is His gift to man. It is, in the final analysis, the denial of God's image in man and of God Himself. What makes sin so tragic is that it is self-destructive. God hates sin not because of what it does to Him, but because of what it does to man. Sin is not a blotch on my record, but in the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, an act of metaphysical suicide."


    I hope you find this interesting. It seemed to go along with the things you've been musing about.

  16. Haha.

    I guess I should have read a little further/closer because I failed to pick up the first time that most of your post was actually written by a fellow Orthodox! Sorry.

  17. I think that the separation we feel is more metaphorical than actual. In either case, it is we who sense the separation, we who initiate it, and we who control it by how much reality we give to ie. As has been pointed out, God does not change, God does not move away. I do not feel God drives us out of the Garden, though we may feel like we are out of it because of our own sense of guilt and shame. And this, I sense, comes—at least in my case—more from my religious and familial enculturation than from the working of God’s Spirit (of conviction) in my heart! That is a new, but key, concept for me.

    Actually, I have removed the concept of original sin from my theological file and am mulling over what sin is all about—if sin even exists. It may all be simply a metaphor that speaks of how we feel humanly, but is not a reality in the Divine Mind. Can I still be a Christian and think this way?

    Terry Gray

  18. I think that it *is* possible for a human being to separate themselves from God, by rejecting Him-- not that it's a good idea to do so.

    Matthew 10: 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    Even though God DOES not destroy people's souls (hell is eternal) he CAN.

  19. Anon,

    If we're going to play Bible Trump, we could be here until the Rapture doesn't happen throwing verses around and not convincing anyone of anything. Personally, I hold onto "nothing can separate me from the love of God". But it, too, is merely a proof-text for my own bias.

    In order to be convincing--and therefore life-transformative, increasing freedom, joy, and peace, being truly Good News--we have to build a theology from the ground up, not from cherry-picked verses.

    We have to seek out the Truths that run like golden threads through ALL available resources--the Bible, other Holy Scriptures, science, psychology, mythology, literature, history--and weave a foundation from those essential truths upon which to build a theology. Too often, nearly always, theology is built from a presupposition that we then bolster with Scripture.