A year ago if someone told me I needed to practice social distancing they would have seen a puzzled look on my face. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue as to what they were referring. It is now a common expression on signs, in the news, in serious contexts and as a joke. We have learned in a very short period of time to stay apart from one another. As I walk down to the post office to get our mail each morning it is now second nature to step off the sidewalk if one of my neighbors is approaching from the other direction. We stop and talk, but the radius of expected personal space has increased.
The current situation to which we have adjusted is new, but there is nothing new or novel about separation or isolation. Some people have had physical issues that required them to be isolated or quarantined to protect others or for their own safety. Some, like my oldest daughter and her husband, have gone through lengthy times of separation because of deployment in the military. Others have lived in cultures that are not their own and have been isolated by customs, language, race, and religion. Far too many have experienced the heartbreak of a marriage and a family that has been split in two by divorce.
As I write this my mind is also on a great, painful type of separation. This afternoon I will be standing with a family beside a grave as they bury one they love. Most who are reading this know the pain of the death of a loved one. The realization that at least in this world; you can never see, speak to, or hear one you love is hard. You may have walked together for many years but the grave reminds you that you have gone as far as you can on the journey they are traveling. You know that by God’s good grace you will adjust, but it is a difficult path you now will walk. I still remember the words of a good friend ten years after his wife died: “Nord, I have learned to be alone, but I have never learned to like it.”
Death is certainly the great separation. That is why it is so tragic to learn that we are born dead. The Bible is clear that we are spiritually still-born. As we draw our first breath and let out our first cry we are already isolated from our creator. We have inherited a sin nature that we will demonstrate with our words and actions as we grow. It creates an empty place in our heart that we learn to live with, but there is always a yearning in the back of our mind for a relationship that we can’t have.
There is a chasm between us and our Lord and there is nothing we can do to make that relationship right. That is why it is such wonderful news to learn that he did what we could not. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Jesus came to deal with the sin that separates us from God. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay so that we could actually become the children of God. If we simply rely on what he has done and trust in him alone, we find ourselves in a position to rejoice that nothing can separate us from the love of God (see Romans chapter eight). In a world of living at a distance from those we love what a wonderful reality that we are in the arms of the one who loves us most!