Where did our ideas of separation from God come from? We will look at the origins of this myth in this installment. Last time, we began looking at my seven objections to this idea of separation that I outlined in part one. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you read those before continuing.
I’m making the case in this series that sinners are not actually separated from God. But before we can see in what way they might be separated, we must first lay a foundation to show how they are not separated.
This idea of separation from God is probably the most harmful lie that Satan has ever put on mankind. It’s behind all our fears and anxieties, and behind the evil things we do to each other. But, praise God, His perfect love drives out this orphan fear!
So, let’s continue with objection number three.
Objection three: It’s based in Platonic dualism. It was Plato, not God, that postulated a separation of heaven and earth, spiritual and physical worlds, or even light and darkness.
Actually, this idea of separation goes all the way back to Adam eating from the wrong tree. But it was the Greek philosophers who inspired Christian theologians to mix “empty philosophies” born from man’s imagination (Col.2:8) with Divine revelation.
Adam (man and woman) had enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God, living from a paradigm of love (connection). When they ate the forbidden fruit, something terrible happened. Their mind switched from love to fear, so now they saw themselves separated from God and hid from Him. It’s important to understand that God did not share this first couple’s perception:
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen. 3:8-10 NKJV)
It’s clear here that God was still intending on meeting with Adam, to commune with them as He had done in the past. It was Adam who changed.
So fear replaced love and Adam and the rest of mankind lived as though separated from God, and the fear/separation paradigm became the basis of all man-made religion. The unrenewed mind and orphan heart still hides behind the fig leaves of religion, wanting heaven but keeping God at a distance.
Because we saw ourselves separated from God, we also saw ourselves separated from each other. This lie opened the door to all of man’s inhumanity to man, going back to Cain murdering of his brother, Abel.
After the Flood, the first thing man does is built a tower to try to reach up to God (Gen.11:1-9). We will see this same pattern of man trying to create “steps to God” throughout the history of religion.
With a few notable exceptions, this was the fallen Adamic paradigm of Israel. Starting with Abraham, then Moses, God was progressively deconstructing the mindset of the Babylonian and Egyptian creator-god cultures they came out of by giving them divine precepts, the psalms and the prophets. Still, they saw God like Adam did and hid from Him.
The sad part is, God offered Israel intimacy with Him, like a father to a son, as a “kingdom of priests” (See Exod.19:3-5), with ten very simple commandments (summed up in one word: love. Love God and love others), but they refused because of fear, telling Moses to be their intermediary instead.
18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:18-19 NKJV)
Without this connection and personal intimacy with God, He had no choice but to obligate them to a mind-numbing litany of unyielding rules and moral restraints, based in fear with severe penalties and threats of retribution for infractions. So, now, instead of being a priest living from His love as son or daughter, they needed a priest to speak to God for them because they lived from fear and separation as an orphan.
Then we come to Plato and the Greek philosophers. Their paradigm is also rooted in the Adamic separation myth. Plato with his theological dualism and his forms that lead us to godly perfection. Aristotle added his Geocentric universe with his 55 orbital spheres, the moon being the division between heaven and earth, and the creator-god (Demiurge) existing outside of that framework. All other philosophers pretty much followed suit. Centuries later, the Gnostics and Neoplatonists, along with other sects, took this idea of separation with a variety of emphasis that impacted Christian thought. I should point out here that all of these ideas have greatly impacted all world religions.
It all boils down to one common denominator: God is “up there” and we are “down here.” I don’t think we fully appreciate how deeply this mindset is embedded in our ideas about God and creation.
In Jesus’ day, we see this separation myth still prevalent with the Pharisees. Jesus had to upgrade their view in Luke’s account (emphasis added):
20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”(Luke 17:20-21 NKJV)
Notice that Jesus is telling the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is already within them. No altar call to get there, no steps to take, no confessing all their sins to get right with God…just a reality to believe or not believe.
After Jesus put sin in the grave and went to the Father and gave us the Holy Spirit, the New Testament writers started to deconstruct this separation myth (see Scripture references in part two). While the Greek philosophers were following Adam’s lead, separating good and evil, John said this about Jesus: He is “the light that shines IN the darkness,” even though the darkness does not comprehend it (John 1:5). Clearly, John thought that light and darkness can exist together. We will look at that in a future installment.
Why is this important to us? Because, even though we have the Holy Spirit to give us true revelation, even though we have the Word of God to instruct us otherwise, we still want to mix this separation myth into our Christian theology. Some of this is due to the church father’s obsession with Greek philosophy throughout history, going back to Origen and Augustine. Some of it just comes from still having an religious orphan mindset.
Because of these factors and others, we’ve created a salvation appeal that basically follows the same “Platonic” pattern of separation and “steps to God.”
We have steps we have to take in order to climb over Jesus back to God (see diagram).
I have to acknowledge, confess, repent, say the “sinners prayer,” and let Jesus come into my heart. The strange thing is, we’re asking Jesus to come somewhere He’s not! And I’m the one transferring myself from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
It’s funny that the Bible seems to think that it was God who conveyed us from darkness into light (Col.1:13).
What we’ve done (at least in the West) is created a man-centered gospel (but we think it isn’t because of the Platonic glasses we’ve been looking through for centuries).
We think we must do something to reach God, but the Good News is that God already did something to reach us. What’s required of us is faith. We are called to repent from trying to fix ourselves before we will come to God, and stop building our clay towers of religious performance, being held captive by “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col.2:8 NLT). Instead, we’ve been invited to draw near with our hearts and minds cleansed from an “evil conscience” by the blood and finished work of Christ.
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb.10:19-22 NKJV)
More next time.