What separation from God really means

When I was in college I had on of the oddest dreams. In the dream, I woke up and had an immense craving for skittles. I walked into the kitchen, opened up the pantry and chose one bag of candy from the stacks and stacks that were there. I opened the bag and enjoyed the skittles as I satisfied my craving. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was not one yellow skittle in the bag. I poured them out just to make sure, then checked another bag. After pouring out four bags of skittles and seeing that none of the candies were yellow, I decided to investigate; in fact I needed to investigate. What better place to begin than outside! I opened the door and was agasp at the state of the city. Cars were toppled over and buildings were on fire. “This is just odd,” I thought to myself as a giant yellow skittle jumped out from behind one of the cars and began to charge toward me. I was not frightened or alarmed. The events were surreal to me, even in the dream. I closed the door and locked multiple dead bolts. After this, I pulled the metal shades down over the windows. There was a pounding on one of the metal shades (I assume it was the giant skittle), and it was rapping a familiar song.

Well, I woke up and realized the tune coming from the mouth of the skittle was the song set with my alarm. This dream caused me to miss class that day and you should have heard me explain it to my professor. Setting the dream aside; I had made a commitment to this class because I had signed up for it. My missing this class went against my own commitment and is a sign of my own imperfection. If God is perfect, and I am imperfect, my question is: “How can I possibly know God?”

“…Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever it is to stop at a campsite, the Levites are to set it up. Any unauthorized person who comes near it must be put to death.

The Israelites are to camp by their military divisions, each man with his encampment and under his banner. The Levites are to camp around the tabernacle of the testimony and watch over it, so that no wrath will fall on the Israelite community.” The Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.[1]

The census

Before this, there was a census taken of the entire Israelite nation in the wilderness. Every tribe is mentioned by name and registered by number. Every tribe, that is, except for the Levites. The Levites were set apart to be priests, or representatives of God, to the nation of Israel. This is interesting because both Moses and Aaron were Levites. Here we learn that the Levites were to set up and take down the tabernacle when the nation stopped in the desert, and that they were to sleep between the tabernacle and the rest of the nation so that no wrath would fall on the Israelite community. My question regarding this passage is: why would God instruct the Israelites so specifically in this way?

The separation

Here we need to rewind so that we might understand God’s instruction. God created the universe and everything in it.            After He created everything else, He created humankind in His own image. He gave humankind a choice to either trust Him or rebel against Him and humankind chose to rebel. We call this rebellion against God sin, and it resulted immediately in the first fight and the first case of murder. Humankind’s decision to rebel against God resulted in evil, because sin and evil are one and the same.

We all know what happens when light meets darkness. Light always overcomes the darkness and there is no amount of darkness that can possibly overcome the light. If God is light and sin is darkness, then the outcome is obvious. When God meets with sin, sin is always overcome. After people rebelled against God, there was evil in their hearts, so God had to separate them from Himself if He did not desire that they be destroyed. God separated people from Himself, it seems, as a great act of mercy toward people.

The tent of meeting

Now let’s fast-forward back to the Israelites in the wilderness. God chose to place his own presence in the Tent of Meeting (specifically in the Ark of the Covenant) so that He could be with His people (Exodus 25-27). God chose the Levites to represent Him to the rest of the Israelites. They moved the tent of meeting. Moses, a Levite, met with God in the tent of meeting to learn God’s will for the Israelites. Aaron and his sons sought the forgiveness of God on behalf of the Israelites. God chose the other tribes to serve primarily as military men to defend in the wilderness and to take the promised land at the end of their exodus. Here is what I notice about the Israelites as I read the history of the nation: there was darkness in their hearts that kept them from being in the full, explicit presence of God, a darkness that had persisted since people rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden.

What does it mean to be fully and explicitly in God’s presence? Does it mean that we are close in proximity or that we can communicate with Him, or does it have something to do with relationship? I think above everything, our separation from God is in our relationship with Him as sons and daughters.

The darkness

However small, we all have some darkness in our hearts. We have all done at least one wrong thing. If God is perfection, then to be fully and explicitly exposed to God would be to perish. This means that because of God’s mercy, we are separated from Him. Notice that the Israelites were separated from God so that they would not experience God’s wrath. In the same way, we are separated because God does not desire for us to experience His wrath. Here is the great reality: If God created me to be in relationship with Him, then I am not fulfilled if I am separated from Him. Here we just learned that we are separated from God so that we don’t experience His wrath. If I can’t get to God, I find that my life has no meaning. I need to get to God, and I can’t approach Him on my own! This means that most religions, including: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, and any other works based system will ultimately let me down. I need God to do something to bring me to Himself!

So, lets fast forward some more…

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens — Jesus the Son of God — let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.[2]

Jesus was born an Israelite. He lived a perfect life, meaning He had no darkness, and claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30). Yet he still died. Here is the great mystery: Jesus had no darkness, but died anyway. He died as a substitute for people, so that God’s wrath was satisfied in Him. Through Him, we were forgiven of all our imperfection. Therefore, those who trust in Christ can approach God fully and explicitly. Have you ever wondered why God’s existence is so obvious to people who trust in Christ and so questionable to those who don’t? This is why. Without Christ, the great high priest, we cannot approach God.

The good news is that God made a way for all people to get to Him! If I can have this sort of relationship with God, then I can live a worthwhile and fulfilling life. This is where we begin to live a truly worthwhile and truly fulfilling life.

[1] Numbers 1:51-54 (HCSB)

[2] Hebrews 4:14-16 (HCSB)

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