Abba Father and the Religion of Distance

By William Stackpole


"There is a widespread, almost ubiquitous idea that has embedded itself into the very fabric of all things Evangelical, and it is the thought that sin brought separation between man and God." (Jeff Turner, Saints in the Arms of a Happy God.)

The premise is that God was so outraged by Adam and Eve's sin that in His righteous fury He banished man from His presence forever. Or similarly, God's so holy that he cannot bear to be in the presence of sin.  Nonsense!  If that were true He wouldn't have showed up in the Garden of Eden asking Adam what he had done.  It wasn't God who was hiding, it was man!  Man - whose nature and understanding of who God is got corrupted by sin.  Perhaps one of the best examples of this corruption is our understanding of kingdom vs human family. 

I've always thought it a little odd that Christians do not attribute the same characteristics to family in the Kingdom of God as we do to human families.  If we did then fathers abandoning their children because they sinned would be normal!  So would punishing children for the sins their father committed or punishing one child for the sins of the other children be acceptable.  As ridiculous as these things sound, isn't this the picture we have painted of God's family?  God loves us but can't have anything to do with us because Adam sinned and that sin nature along with our own sins condems us to eternal separation from our daddy.  Oh but wait!  If we are willing to believe this, the Father will show us how much He loves us by accepting the unjust and senseless murder of our oldest brother as payment for everything we have done that offended Him!  Does this make sense at all?  In human terms this is dyfunctional family at its best.  Is this the Father Jesus spoke of when he said, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father" or is this God a product of our own corrupted imagination?  Are we sinners in the hands of an angry God or are we saints in the arms of a loving Father?

The doctrine of separation (the notion that God is not present with us but in some distant place) is based around three primary scriptural references.  The first is in Genesis 3 when God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However, there is no indication in this passage that Adam was in any way separated or removed from the presence of God.  The first example of someone being removed from God's presence is the banishment of Cain after he killed Able (Gen 4:14).  Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden to prevent him from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:22) but by all other indications he continued to live in the presence of God for some 900 years!

The second reference is Habakkuk 1:13 which reads, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil..."  If this scripture means God is too pure to look upon evil then Adam's 900 years in the presence of God is certainly perplexing.  So what is the prophet actually saying?  To figure that out we need to consider what is written in both its historical context and the pasage context.  Habakkuk like the other prophets of his time is speaking to the Jewish people about the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans.  Habakkuk begins (v1-4) by expressing the vexation of his heart over the iniquity and wickedness he is constantly exposed to.  The Lord responds by revealing the judgment that is to come through the Chaldeans (v5-10).  Then Habakkuk actually questions God's revelation!  He asks how it is possible that God would permit a nation that is far more wicked than Israel to oppress and devour Israel like a fisherman does his catch (v12-17).  This is the context.  Habakkuk isn't making a broad statement about God's inability to relate to sinful man.  He is speaking to God's sense of justice. How can a Holy God who hates evil wickedness and treachery look with favor on the Chaldeans?

The third scripture is Matthew 27:46, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When Christ took the sins of the world upon himself on the cross, God (being a holy God who could not look upon sin, turned His face away, forsaking Christ in the hour of his greatest need.  At lease that's what we've been taught, but is that what really happened?  Even if we conclude from our study of Habakkuk that God can look upon sin, it still does not answer the question.  "Why did Christ feel forsaken?" I believe the answer to that question lies in the context of Christ's statement.  Jesus was quoting the opening line of one of the most poular songs of his day - Psalm 22.  It would be like someone today quoting the first line of a Christmas carol and everyone joining in to sing the song.  Can you imagine what the impact of singing that messianic psalm at the cross would have been?  There right in front of them was Christ with pierced hands and feet (v16), bones out of joint (v14), divided garments (v17), being taunted and sneered at (v8 & 9).  Wow!  That certainly would have put the events they were witnessing in a completely new context!  But there is more to it than that.  The first portion of this psalm is a cry of anquish where the Messiah asks twice that God not be far from him (v10 & 19).  The final statement in this section is, "Thou dost answer me." The remainder of the psalm is a song of praise.  God answered, therefore, "I will declare your name to my people in the assembly I will praise you...For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help." (v22 & 24 empahsis added) Does this sound like abandonment?  Certainly not! And in that final moment, face-to-face with the Father, Christ commits his spirit to Abba.

"There is no hint here of a severed or even strained relationship.  There is no sense of a Father who has rejected his Son or who has turned his back on him.  In fact it is hard to see how such a view could be compatible with the last words of Jesus. To the contrary, Jesus prefaces his last words with a sense of deep relational intimacy: Jesus addresses his 'Father'.  And they are words of complete trust; what we see here is an expression of the closest imaginable spiritual communion.  'Into your hands I commit my spirit.' "  (Thomas McCall, Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross and Why it Matters)

Friends, if God did not distance Himself from Christ when he was laden with the sins of all humanity, you can be assured that He has never distanced Himself from you; not for one moment of your life.  Papa has always desired the same deep intimate relationship with you that He has with Christ and the good news is that you do not have to go find Him!  You are already a saint in the arms of a happy God.

William Stackpole is on staff with Healing the Northwest Ministries and is available for ministry Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-5 PM at our offices; 221 Railroad Avenue, Shelton, WA  98584.

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