Separated from God?

Jul 30 2017


“According to an ancient fable, there once lived in a small village a man whose body was so twisted and whose face was so disfigured that the townspeople laughed at him. The children teased him. The dogs barked at him. The man became so embittered that he left the village where he had been born and went deep into the forest, where he lived alone. There he found a measure of solace in the beauty of sunrise and sunset, in the soft sighing of the breeze in the trees, in the frolic of creatures of the forest, in the sweet songs of the birds of the air. Still the bitterness only softened. It did not go away. One day, a visitor came into the hermit's hut. As they sat down together to the evening meal, the hermit asked the visitor to offer a prayer. But the visitor said, "No, you are the master here. It is you who must say the blessing." And so the hermit, nervous at first, spoke his gratitude for the beauty of the forest and the wonder of nature and the nourishment they were about to share. Whereupon the visitor said: "You have forgotten one thing. You have neglected to thank God for yourself." The hermit looked away, saying nothing. The visitor continued: "You have retreated into the forest because you have despaired of your physical unattractiveness. You have forgotten that in the eyes of God, you are far more beautiful than all the trees and all the flowers and all the birds of the forest." The hermit could not forget those words, and when the opportunity came, he moved back to the town of his birth. Strange to say, the people of the community no longer laughed when he walked by. The children no longer teased him. And his heart sang with joy, for he realized that he was living in the same town, with the same people, even the same dogs, but all was different! All was different because he was different. He had learned to thank God for himself.” (Preachers’ Illustration Service, #125)

What does that story have to do with being separated from God? The man in the story chose to feel so alienated that he went to the forest to live as a hermit. Year after year, he stayed there because he felt that no one would accept him as he was. It took the words of a stranger to remind him that in God’s eyes he was beautiful.

How many of us choose to separate ourselves from others because there is something about ourselves that we do not like? How many of us retreat when we are around a crowd? How many of us are just plain unhappy about who we are? We are like the hermit in the woods – we retreat into ourselves and stay in what we think are comfortable surroundings and blame others for the ways in which they treat us forgetting all along that God thinks we are beautiful – each and every one of us.

God does not separate from us; we separate ourselves from God. And when we do that we are giving up the one resource that can remind us of who we really are and how beautiful we are in God’s eyes. We are giving up the one resource that can help lift us from our depression, our lack of self-esteem, or our lack of wanting others to really know who we are. We are separating ourselves from God. When we feel that our world is crashing down around our ears, no matter the reason, it is then that we especially need to remember the words of Paul.

Paul is talking about separation from God. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Look at the interesting way that Paul phrases this. He asks “who” and then goes on to recite acts: hardship, distress, etc.

Perhaps Paul understood some basic principles of human nature – that people separate people from God, that people can create the acts of which Paul speaks, and that ultimately, none of us should ever put ourselves in a position in which we feel so authoritative that we can unequivocally state that something will separate another human being from God.

This appears to be a time in history when the far right Christians feel they have all the answers and the rest of us are wrong at best or will be made to disappear at worst. In a recent television interview on “60 Minutes,” a member of the Klan stated that “Jesus said that only the white people should be in charge on the earth.” He went on to say that the Klan was going to ask them to leave and create a separate state in the U.S. for anyone not white. When asked what the Klan would do if the people refused to move, he said we will make them.

These far-right fundamentalist Christians explain difficulties and problems in our lives in the same way that they explain their racism. It’s God’s will; God never gives us more than we can handle. I think that matches the definition of the puppet master God. And while such individuals will acknowledge free will, their explanation runs something like this: “Sure. You made mistakes. You chose to make those decisions and now God is punishing you for your errors.”

Good, bad, right, wrong, depression, lack of self-esteem, tragedies in our lives. When did Jesus ever indicate that God’s love stops when we make the decisions God empowered us to make? When did Jesus ever indicate that trying to follow what we perceive to be God’s way was the pathway to perdition? When did Jesus ever indicate that God’s love is selective? When did Jesus ever indicate that God would send trouble into our lives because we make bad choices? When did Jesus ever indicate that God would only love us if we did the “right” thing? Never!

Perhaps Paul is right. People create those things he listed. People create famine and peril and nakedness and persecution and hardship. But Paul was right about something else when he said, “ For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That includes the future. When Paul tells us that God will never separate from us and gives us a list, that list includes people and events. We can choose to get excited, panicky and worry about a situation, but what Paul is telling us is that God is with us now, was with us in the past, and will be with us in the future. Paul is saying that NOTHING, NOTHING can ever separate us from God.

Yet we persist in choosing to separate ourselves from God when situations get tough because we think that God is not with us. And the reasoning is something like, “If God were here this wouldn’t be happening.” Why is it that we who have faith, who worship on a regular basis, who pray, insist on shooting ourselves in the foot when we do not carry all of our problems to God, and instead, actually blame God in a round about way.

We can learn from every situation in life. And sometimes the situations that seem the most dire can bring the most positive change.

When I worked with Special Olympics, there was a Special Olympian who often went to schools to tell her story. She grew up during the time when those who were intellectually challenged were put away. She was placed at Southern Colony. When the federal laws were changed, she was released, became involved in Special Olympics, and ultimately served on the Board when I did. She has met four or five sitting U.S. Presidents. Her story involves her mother scalding her with boiling water, and during her story, she shows the scars on her arms. She celebrates the day she was released from Southern Colony as her birthday – the beginning of a new life for her.

Sometimes challenges come to us so that we are forced to look in new directions. We are forced to refocus our energies. We are forced to try and find new ways to move ahead. To think that God is not with us is self-defeating. For if we believe that God IS with us and IS guiding us, then we will have the fortitude to look for ways to resolve any situation. God doesn’t leave. We do.

God doesn’t separate from us, just as God doesn’t send those dastardly situations to drive us into panic. When all is said and done, people separate from other people and in so doing, learn how to separate from God.

People separate themselves from God by limiting their perception of God and the love of God. But God, God is never separated from us, because God’s love transcends anything we can dream up in our fragile, human world. Amen.