separation from God

Written by Joe McGarry

I am a Lutheran Pastor (ELCA) in Upstate New York. I am married and have two children. I blog at Lutheran Grilled Cheese about how we connect with God and our daily lives.

July 20, 2011

This past Sunday I was starting my usual afternoon Pastoral nap when there was a knock at the door.  I got up to answer the door and I find it was two of my neighbors.  These neighbors happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They’ve stopped by a number of times to introduce themselves and to talk with me about who they are and what they believe.  Even though they know I’m a pastor they are not deterred from sharing their beliefs.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a Pastor they feel like they have an audience to talk about their beliefs, because I do have a strong understanding of my faith and the Bible.

They were sharing with me articles from their latest magazine surrounding the Kingdom of God.  However, our conversation quickly turned into thoughts about salvation.  They were telling me all the things I needed to be doing to ensure my salvation.  Now, I am not afraid to talk with someone about the end times and what that means to me as a Lutheran Christian but in my mind there is a set time and a place for that.  When I encounter someone and we start to talk about God, especially when it’s someone that I don’t know; I’m not warning them about their potential to go to hell, I’m talking with them about a God who loves them, who cares for them and who will do anything for them. I tell them about Jesus – the one who preached God’s kingdom and embodied God’s love, the one who suffered and died on the cross and was raised again all because of his love for them and all humankind.  But Alice and Geoff have a different approach and that was quite clear.

After they shared with me I told them about my sermon earlier that day, I preached about Jacob seeing God for the first time and how we are called to see God as well, not only in the church but in the world as well.  I preached about how God comes to us to help us like according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh.  I said that this is all about a God who loves us, who cares for us.  They said that they do believe in the love of God, but it was also important to point out to people that if they do something wrong, then Jehovah is going to punish them.

This is where we do not agree.

I told them if this is true, then Paul is lying in Romans chapter eight.  Paul asks the question “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (v35).  His answer is quite clear “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.” (v.38-39)

Did you hear it? There is nothing that we can do to separate ourselves from the love, grace and forgiveness of God.  Alice and Geoff quoted lots of scripture to show me that what I was saying is not true.  But they could not explain away the awesomeness of God’s love.

Right there in the book of Romans, we are told that no matter what some people may think or say, no matter where we may go or what we may do, no matter even what may be done to us, nothing can separate us from God. This is very clear — and if we were to take it a step further we can add to the list. All the things of this world that we fear disease, divorce, bankruptcy, a lack of a sense of purpose, a loss of a job or a failed relationship cannot get between us and God.  Sometimes they may drive us away from God, but when they happen, my hope – my prayer is that they to drive us into the arms of a loving, caring God who is waiting for us with arms wide open.  Because we have a faithful God who continues to run after us even when we turn away.   God will not stop until we are resting in His loving arms once again.

The truth is God loves us…forever…no matter what. That’s why Jesus came: to tell us, show us, embody for us, God’s love.

What are those things that you have done or have happened to you that has separated you from God?  Think about them, pray about them and list them.  Share your thoughts.

24 Comments

  1. Whitefrozen

    Does God not punish those who do wrong?

    Reply
    • papajoemc

      What do you mean by punish?  

      If I sin, what is my consequence?  I am separating myself from God.  That does not mean that God is not running after me waiting for me to come back to Him.  Because there is nothing I can do to separate myself from God, when it comes to God loving me, forgiving me and offering me salvation.

      Reply
    • @bibledude

      i totally see where this is going. sin separates us from God. that is true. however, i still cling to (and am grateful for) the idea that no matter how bad I screw things up, God still love me… and as @papajoemc:twitter states… He runs runs after me, forgives me, and still offers me His salvation.

      Reply
  2. Native4christ

    Does not His Own Word say, He disciplines those whom He loves?!?!
    Discipline/Reprimand/Punishment for wrongdoing is thus equal to Love, is it not?!
    Just trying to comprehend your/their disagreement.

    Reply
    • papajoemc

      @Native4christ — it depends on which scripture you are talking about.  In Hebrews 12:6 the author says “for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”  This is a reference back to Proverbs 3.  

      The previous 10 chapters of Hebrews the author talks about the nature of a Christian life, and heroes of the faith.  Chapter 12 I think he is talking more about how we live this out in our daily lives.  The discipline here is like a parent shaping their child.  It is not a punishment but a guidance.  We see that clearer in verse 10 “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.”

      Any discipline we have from God is to shape us rather than punish us.  I discipline my son, but when I do I don’t love him any less. 

      Reply
  3. Robin Morgan

    You seem like a nice man. The fact you have patience enough to sit and discuss with your neighbors, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses,  spiritual things from the Bible, is commendable. But you must admit God’s love has a limit. Genesis 6 and the account of Noah is a good example of this though not the first. Not everyone one can be redeemed.
    Of course we as Jehovah’s Witnesses are interested in attracting people to the positive message of the Bible, life everlasting as meek ones on the earth. That is the our dominate message. Armageddon is the result of ignoring the Gospel and Jesus mentioned eventual destruction for those that ignored the message of God’s Kingdom. There is a balance to be reached.
    1 Corinthians 6:9 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” NIVOthers as well: 1 Cor.15:50; Galatians 5:19-21

    Reply
    • BeenBurned

      Jehovah God’s Love is for Jehovah’s Witnesses Robin C Morgan to cease and desist from apostasy.

      The Watchtower Society is the sole channel for media not Robin C Morgan and his independent rants

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Q: Did Jesus Christ try to heal the spiritually ill? If so, was he kind to kind people? Did he have mercy on those who were misinformed..setting them straight with love?

        Reply
    • papajoemc

      Thank you Robin, I love learning about other people’s beliefs and I respect the belief of other people.

      I do not believe that God has a limit.  I never try and put limitations on God.  God is a limitless God and to be honest I can’t even fathom what that means!!!

      I believe that when Jesus came it was a game changer.  Jesus died on the cross for our salvation.

      When you quote 1 Corinthians 6 you quoted verses 9 and 10, if you read one more verse you get to the good stuff!!!  Paul continues in verse 11 “And this is what some of you used to be. But
      you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the
      Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  WOW!!  We were once the dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but because of the sacrifice of my Lord and my God I am saved once again!  That is awesome!

      Reply
  4. marilyn

    The scriptures speak for themselves! Jesus himself saying these things:
    Matthew 24:13,14,21,22
    Luke 13:22-24
    And Jesus said this to the religious leaders:John 8:42-44
    Revelation 1:1 and 19:11-18

    Reply
    • papajoemc

      @2e7593f77c33f515872b932a3ff98bde:disqus  You quoted some great scripture there!! I don’t think here in the comment section of a blog post I can go deeply about each verse but let me talk about one of them.  John 8: 42-44. 

      You need to look at the expanded text in its context.  If you just took the two verses, yes it looks bad.  but in the context of chapter 8 you have these religious leaders coming to Jesus trying to take him away to kill him.  What Jesus is talking about with them is the truth found in God.  Jesus says if you continue in my word you are my true disciples, you will know the truth and the true will set you free. 

      What is truth?  In ancient Greek the word originated as the negation of letho, which means “to hide or conceal.”
      So truth in this sense means “non-concealment” — what is seen or felt or
      thought is disclosed as it really is rather than concealed, falsified, or
      suppressed.

      The opposite of “truth” in the New Testament is often
      “lying” — concealing something about reality.

      So if we are trying to hide something (our sins perhaps?) then we are not living in truth with God.  But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and again we can live in righteousness with Him.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        “Jesus says IF you continue in my word you are my true disciples, you will know the truth and the true will set you free.” You quoted it yourself.

        Reply
  5. marilyn

    Note 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9: it says”… vengeance upon those who do not know God and who DO NOT OBEY THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT OUR LORD JESUS

    Reply
    • papajoemc

      The writer speaks of current afflictions as part of God’s
      righteous intention “to make you worthy of the kingdom,” and promises
      that “on that day” those who persecute you will in the end be
      punished because they “do not know God” and do not “obey the
      gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

      It is thought among church scholars that these images of
      judgment put into question Paul’s authorship of this letter and to wonder
      whether the viewpoint expressed does not belong to a later period of the early
      church, when apocalyptic images such as those in the book of Revelation are
      more prominent.
       
      The overall imagines in 2 Thes. Shows us  a time of persecution and suffering for the church and points to the destructive realities of evil in the world. Like the seed sown on rocky ground Paul’s community lives in a time when believing in God is a risky thing.  Having faith in a God who is just and continuing to live out their calling might get them killed.  But the idea to love and serve the world gives us hope. 

      Paul’s words in this letter is to call this community (when you look at the entire letter) to “hang in there” in hope and faith. Even though they cannot imagine how they are going to make it because of all the evil in the world. He is asking them to  live in mutual thanksgiving and prayer, and resolve to be engaged in acts of love for one another founded and continue to sustain the community in which they live and serve.  Hopefully we can learn that as well!

      Reply
  6. Donald Borsch Jr

    I refuse to mention judgment or any of that OT nonsense, because if I do it might scare people away from Jesus.  Jesus is totally different that His Father in that Jesus is all about love and His Father was all about judgment, wrath, and ‘thou shalt not!’

    Yikes!  Who wants to believe in THAT?

    *sarc off*

    Reply
    • papajoemc

      Donald, I don’t know your background but I come from a trinitarian background.  I believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same yet separate.  That being said, I don’t know how you could talk about Jesus yet not talk about God.  

      Reply
      • Donald Borsch Jr

        Apparently the *sarc off* (sarcasm off) thing didn’t catch your eye.

        I was mocking the mindset that some have where it is said Jesus changed God, bringing with Him (Jesus) a better more happy way instead of that mean-spirited God of the Old Testament wrath stuff.

        I should have clarified.

        Did you honestly think I was some kind of emergent, new Christianity liberal?  Hmm.  Knowing I was being sarcastic, I hope that first commenting session of mine makes more sense now.  🙂

        Reply
        • papajoemc

          lol – sorry Donald.  I did think twice what that “sarc off” meant.  Thanks for clarifying.

          Reply
  7. Babalu99

    Paul in Hebrews discusses those who leave God.  He talks about drifting away, drawing away and then later fallen away from God, this being a progression moving from not paying attention to actively acting against the Holy spirit. Those fallen away are spoken of as having impaled the Christ anew.  

    Do you believe Satan still experiences God’s love?  Why would humans be treated any differently? 

    Reply
    • Robin Morgan

      No. Satan cannot be forgiven for his apostasy in Eden. He was created perfect and knowingly rejected God’s direction. He is doomed as Revelation clearly shows.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Hi Joe.  God is love, yes. 🙂 

    However, he loves, therefore he sets limits.
    2 Peter 3: 5
    For, according to their wish, this fact escapes
    their notice, that there were heavens from of old and an earth standing
    compactly out of water and in the midst of water by the word of God; 6
    and by those [means] the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water. 7
    But by the same word the heavens and the earth
    that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of
    judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men. 8
    However, let this one fact not be escaping your notice, beloved ones, that one day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. 9
    Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance. 

    http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080601/article_01.htm

    About Romans chapter 8: 35-39..If you’ll notice, it doesn’t mention forgiveness or grace in any of those scriptures. And, in fact, 28-34 actually show the context of what he meant and WHO he was referring to.

    28
    Now we know that God makes all his works
    cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the
    ones called according to his purpose; 29
    because those whom he gave his first recognition
    he also foreordained to be patterned after the image of his Son, that he
    might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30
    Moreover, those whom he foreordained are the ones
    he also called; and those whom he called are the ones he also declared
    to be righteous. Finally those whom he declared righteous are the ones
    he also glorified.

    31
    What, then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who will be against us? 32
    He who did not even spare his own Son but
    delivered him up for us all, why will he not also with him kindly give
    us all other things? 33
    Who will file accusation against God’s chosen ones? God is the One who declares [them] righteous. 34
    Who is he that will condemn? Christ Jesus is the
    one who died, yes, rather the one who was raised up from the dead, who
    is on the right hand of God, who also pleads for us.

    Reply
  9. Carolyn Neal

    Dear Mr. McGarry,

    1 – You can stop Witnesses from coming to your address at any time.  You only have to ask the next Witness who
    knocks at your door to write down your address and have it removed from the
    congregation’s territorial visitation list. 
    Once your address is excluded, Witnesses will learn that you have no
    interest and will not come to your door. 
    If any one happens to, you simply tell them that you have asked
    previously to have your address removed, that you do not want any visits.

    2 – Now, I
    am not afraid to talk with someone about the end times and what that means to
    me as a Lutheran Christian but in my mind there is a set time and a place for
    that.  What is the time and place for that?

     When I encounter someone and we start to talk
    about God, especially when it’s someone that I don’t know; I’m not warning them
    about their potential to go to hell, I’m talking with them about a God who
    loves them, who cares for them and who will do anything for them. I tell them
    about Jesus – the one who preached God’s kingdom and embodied God’s love, the
    one who suffered and died on the cross and was raised again all because of his
    love for them and all humankind.  But Alice and Geoff have a different approach
    and that was quite clear.  Perhaps
    you were planning what you wanted to expound on instead of listening to what “Alice and Geoff” were communicating.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in “hell,”
    a fiery place of eternal punishment.  They
    therefore would not be warning you or anyone else about going to “hell.”

    3 – . . . They said that they do
    believe in the love of God, but it was also important to point out to people
    that if they do something wrong, then Jehovah is going to punish them.  This is a lie.  And we know the source of lies in the
    world.  One of the chief scriptures Witnesses emphasize is 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” 

    Alice and Geoff quoted lots of
    scripture to show me that what I was saying is not true.  I am quite sure “Alice and Geoff” made every
    effort to show you scriptures directly from the Bible.  It is clear from
    your writing that you lack accurate knowledge and humility.

    Because we have a faithful God who
    continues to run after us even when we turn away.   What
    scripture(s) support this?  It is interesting that you believe you know what God does.  In God’s own words, he clearly doesn’t “run
    after” anyone.  Isaiah 55:6:  “Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may
    be found.  Call to him while he proves to
    be near.  Let the wicked man leave his
    way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will
    have mercy upon him . . .”  1 Chronicles
    28:9:  “. . . If you search for him, he
    will let himself be found by you; but if you leave him, he will cast you off
    forever.”  Matthew 7:7,8:  “Keep on asking, and it will be given you;
    keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to
    you.  For everyone asking receives, and
    everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.”  God doesn’t run after anyone.  It is up to each individual to seek to know
    God and to build a relationship with him.

     

    What are those things that you have
    done or have happened to you that has separated you from God?  Think about
    them, pray about them and list them.  This is advice which you might better apply to yourself.  You might want to examine Luke
    6:42.   It is very sad to see people like
    you who claim to have an understanding of the Bible be so clearly unaware of
    scriptural truths.  The weightier aspect of
    Biblical ignorance is that you stumble others with disinformation, clouding
    their chances of coming to an accurate understanding of God’s Word.  This is a serious offense in Jehovah’s
    eyes.  (Matthew 18:6:  “But whoever stumbles one of these little
    ones who put faith in me, it is more beneficial for him to have hung around his
    neck a millstone such as is turned by an ass and to be sunk in the wide, open
    sea.”)

    One can understand why you lack accurate knowledge, why you are so confused:

    Today, Lutherans
    disagree about the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Theological
    conservatives use the historical-grammatical method of Biblical interpretation,
    while theological liberals use the higher critical method. The 2008 U.S.
    Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center surveyed 1,926
    adults in the United States that self-identified as Lutheran. The study found
    that 30% believed that the Bible was the Word of God and was to be taken
    literally word for word. 40% held that the Bible was the Word of God, but was
    not literally true word for word or were unsure if it was literally true word
    for word. 23% said the Bible was written by men and not the Word of God. 7%
    didn’t know, weren’t sure, or had other positions.

     

    Source:  ^ U.S.
    Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Diverse and
    Politically Relevant. Washington D.C.: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
    June 2008. p. 127. Accessed online on September 27, 2009 at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf.

    You should consider studying with Witnesses.  You would be much further along in your
    personal knowledge of the Bible and your ability to render truthful service to others.

    Carolyn Neal

    Reply

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separation from God

by Joe McGarry time to read: 4 min
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