Home » Are We Separated From God Who Can’t Even Look At Us, Sinners?

Are We Separated From God Who Can’t Even Look At Us, Sinners?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
13 minutes read

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil (Habakkuk 1:13)

Suppose that God’s holiness does not mean that he hates us, sinners. Then, why do we continue to hear the message that God the Father is so holy that he may never defile himself by coming close or even looking at us? Logically, a father who is not willing to communicate with his children is expressing his hatred towards them. Yet, despite this illogical notion, the idea can be found everywhere, from pamphlets and websites to videos and books. For example, according to pastor and author Bruxy Cavey:

Two things must be removed that separate us from God: 1. Our sin. 2. God’s wrath.[i]

Another example comes from perhaps the most popular evangelical leaflet ever created. It is one that I used back in my days serving with CRU. We went to university campuses and used this “bulletproof” method to share the gospel. This pamphlet, known as “The Four Spiritual Laws,” was written by Bill Bright in the early 1950s. When Bright was in his late 20s to early 30s, he put together a tract to help him and his friends evangelize. In it, Bright outlined what he perceived the Christian gospel to be. Its second “law” states that:

Man is sinful and separated from God,
so we cannot know Him personally
or experience His love.[ii]

Apparently, our heavenly Father is so furious with our sin that he won’t even talk to us (unless, of course, he gets to abuse, torture, and punish his Son). In short, according to the preachers of Divine Abuse, God must stay away from us because we sin. He must be separated from anything and anyone who sins, otherwise, he will have to destroy them. The god of Divine Abuse seems to suffer from “sin-phobia.” Divine Abuse preachers portray God as angry, furious, and unwilling to be in a relationship with us because we are not perfect like him. In his best-selling book “Radical,” David Platt explains that God can’t even look our way as he: “could not bear to see your sin.[iii] And according to Philip Ryken, God “could not bear to look at the sin” and “had to shield his eyes.[iv]

These claims are usually based on two verses taken out of context: Habakkuk 1:13 and Isaiah 59:2:

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2)

We’ll get to Isaiah later, but in regards to Habakkuk, the key to understanding this complaint of Habakkuk is found in the Hebrew parallelism of the poetry. “To look on” is parallel with “tolerate.” Habakkuk points to God’s holiness, and essentially, he says, “You are too holy to ignore. No way you can accept this evil in your nation.” Or “You are too good to ignore the evil being done.” This is a figure of speech and not a claim by Habakkuk that literally God’s physical eyes can’t look at evil.

Back in the day, almost every time I used the four spiritual laws with Israeli Jews, we would get stuck on the second Law. How come? Because in Israel, we Jews grow up soaked with Old Testament stories in our schooling system and Jewish culture. These challenge Bright’s second “law.” No doubt, as a human, I am a sinful and depraved creature who can do absolutely nothing to earn my salvation. It is, therefore, by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone – that I may be saved. All for the glory of God. However, teaching that sinners cannot experience God, that God hates them, or that he can’t even look at them merely because they are sinners is mere nonsense and well contradicted by both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, most stories in the Pentateuch prove the exact opposite — a holy God who is not afraid to maintain a relationship with the worst of sinners.

If indeed God could not be around sin, how do we explain the book of Job? In Job, we read that God welcomes Satan (the father of all sinners: John 8:44) into his company and negotiates with him. If it was true that God cannot look at us and must be separated from us because we sin, then the incarnation never could have been possible. But the whole point of the prophets and the New Testament is to tell us that God came down to earth, manifested in the flesh, for the sake of pursuing sinners. In Jesus, God spent time with the sinner (Matt 9:10-17, Mark 2:15-22, Luke 5:29-39). Does that sound like a God who is angry and unwilling to be in touch with humanity because of their sin? On the contrary, God comes near sinners and loves them. He even “became sin for us.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21)

In contrast to an angry God who hates sinners and is about to punch us all in the face and into damnation, Jesus spoke of the Father as loving, caring, forgiving, and full of compassion. A father who’s not only able to look at sinners but makes an effort to reach out to them, deliver and save them:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

So, it is not that we cannot experience the love of God because we are sinners. Because we are sinners, we get to experience God’s love (and grace and forgiveness). If we were not sinners, we would not be able to understand what love, grace, or forgiveness are to begin with. The fact we are sinners never caused God to separate from us or draw his love from us. Eternal separation from God is only caused by unbelief in him, not because of a sin we committed. This is what Jesus himself taught.

In John 8:24, Jesus says that the reason “you would die in your sins” is “if you do not believe that I am he.” According to Jesus, the fact we sin doesn’t change. What changes is, do we or do we not die? That is up to us if we do or do not believe. Being eternally separated from God only results from choosing to reject Christ. Eternal separation from God is out of our free choice — not wanting to be with God. He will not force himself on us against our will. If we want nothing to do with him, we lead ourselves to a place where God is indeed absent forever. We’ll get our will. No one will find themselves in heaven because they were somehow able to stop sin in their life, which is impossible anyways. Any of your favorite Bible characters will prove exactly that. Otherwise, what kind of father separates himself from his children because they are not perfect?

Isaiah 59:2

Preachers of Divine Abuse often use Isaiah 59:2 to support their belief that God cannot communicate with sinners. When taken entirely out of context, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” does sound like God is separated from mankind due to sin. For example, according to the popular reformed preacher Paul Washer, God the Father and God the Son had to experience separation and alienation from one another because God the Father cannot fellowship with sinners. This, according to Paul Washer, is based on Isaiah 59. Washer recently published a book called, “Discovering the Glorious Gospel.” On page 49, under chapter ten titled, “The Son Suffered the Wrath of God — Christ was forsaken of God,” Washer writes:

One aspect of God’s wrath that Christ suffered was forsakenness or estrangement from God the Father. God is morally perfect and separated from all evil. It is impossible for Him to take pleasure in sin or remain in fellowship with those who practice unrighteousness…To mend this great separation between God and His people, Christ stood in our place, bore the guilt of our sins, and was forsaken of God until the penalty for our sins was paid in full…According to Isaiah 59:2, how does sin affect God’s relationship with man? Can God have fellowship with the wicked?[v]

Another example comes from the well-known and popular Christian website “GotQuestions.”[1] The opening statement answering the question “What are the consequences of sin?” reads:

Eternal separation from God: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).[vi]

What is Isaiah 59 really about?

Isaiah 59:2, however, has nothing to do with “eternal separation from God.” Firstly, this is a national rebuke from God, and not an individual being scolded by God. Humans may be separated from God eternally, but not nations. Second, the status of the salvation of men cannot be drawn theologically from the state of affairs between the nation of Israel and God. Third, the “separation” Isaiah writes about is not an eternal one, but a temporary withdrawal of physical protection and blessings over Israel. Fourth, the very existence of this verse proves my point, as an active conversation takes place between God and Israel. This shows that the “separation” is not at all a cut-off (otherwise, God wouldn’t communicate to rebuke). Instead, it is a withdrawal of protection. Fifth, Israel was a nation of sinners prior to the time of Isaiah and yet maintained a national relationship with God.

Isaiah himself is proof against the logic of Divine Abuse. Isaiah, an Israelite himself, wrote: “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) Not only Isaiah — a sinner — saw God, but the fact God communicated through a prophet who admits to being a sinner himself, proves Divine Abuse claims to be wrong.

The context of Isaiah 59:2 is that God is answering Israel’s inquiry as to why His blessings and protection have vanished. Moreover, Israel has sinned before God, and in response, does God disappear? On the contrary, God is actively pursuing Israel by communicating with them and explaining the consequences of their sins. This is the exact opposite of “eternal separation.”

Isaiah explains to Israel that their hope for help and protection from evil (previous verse!) is being denied because they misbehave. Remember, God already warned Israel in Deuteronomy 28 – if you do not behave, God will not protect you from evil. That is the sense in which Israel is “separated” from God. He is unwilling to rescue and protect them from evil (59:1).

So, Isaiah 59:2 has nothing to do with an individual’s spiritual/eternal condition. Isaiah speaks merely about a temporary, physical, and natural consequence of his nation due to their actions. This means God is holding back his blessings and protection from the nation of Israel due to their bad behavior. If God was to completely cut off Israel, they would stop being his chosen nation. However, God promised Israel: “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)

Now, try and apply Isaiah 59 to parenthood. If your child misbehaves, you will probably reject her request for ice cream until your relationship is mended again. You might even send her to her room for an hour. But you will not denounce your child, throwing her out of the house because she was not obedient. Neither will God, who is much more merciful and loving than you will ever be.

Garden of Eden

No story is more famous than the Garden of Eden. In Christianity, many regard the Garden of Eden as a story about sin, division, and the fall. These aspects do exist, yet they are secondary. The Garden of Eden, from my perspective at least, is a love story whereby God is a loving father caring for his children. He wants the best for them, even as they fall and sin against him. Likewise, the whole Bible is the most extraordinary novel ever written, one long love story featuring a God who courts and sustains a relationship with our forefathers and foremothers. These were people who, just like you and me, were soaked in sin up to their necks.

The reason given in the text as to why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden was not — as often told — because they were dreadful sinners. It was for another reason, to keep them away from the tree of life:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:22)

It was due to Adam and Eve not trusting in God that they ended up losing access to the tree of life. In that sense, they are to “die in their sin.”

In verses 14-19, we see the list of consequences.[3] A curse on the serpent. Hostility between the serpent and mankind. A hurdle on the woman (echoing back to the commandment to be fruitful and multiply). Hardship in the relationship between the woman and the man. A curse on the ground whom the man is to cultivate (echoing back to the commandment to work it and keep it). And, of course, death. Death resulted from the tree of life no longer being accessible to them. Earlier, God warned Adam and Eve, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17). This is the result: the tree of life is no longer accessible, and so we all die.

In the New Testament, Jesus claims that by “eating” him, we once again gain access to eternal life: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). We receive access to eternal life by “eating” Jesus, or in other words, by trusting in him once again. In Jesus, God regained our trust and proved to us that Satan was not worthy of our trust after all. Satan lied to us and then left us, using us only in his cosmic game of chess against God.

But there is one more thing that is “missing.” It is a curse that you would expect to see on the list – the relationship between man, woman, and serpent was damaged, but there is nothing about the relationship between God and mankind. The text offers no such curse. It is only in the mind of Divine Abuse that this curse exists. God did not announce to Adam and Eve, “I am so upset with you right now I can’t even look at you!! Get out of here!! Go to hell!!” Instead, God draws closer to them and physically clothes them (verse 21). After rebelling earlier in the story, they realized they were naked and hid from God (verse 10). In return, God finds them and covers their shame and vulnerability (verse 21). He empowered them as priests. Just as God did not demand that King David step down due to his sins, God also did not replace Adam and Eve with new models.

We learn from reading Genesis that God is not so angry that he must kill an animal and see blood to cool down his wrath, but rather a story about a God who is able, willing, and wanting to draw near to sinners to cover for their mistakes. I agree that we get to witness the gospel in Genesis, but it’s not about hate, wrath, and anger. It is one about God who covers our embarrassment, vulnerability, shame, and guilt.

How would the devil handle this situation if it were him instead of God? First, he would probably spread gossip about Adam and Eve so that all the animals in the Garden would know, judge, and boycott them. Then, he would scorn, humiliate, mock, and judge them harshly himself. I know many people feel the Church did the same to them – humiliated, gossiped about, and judged them harshly. In fact, I myself served with a ministry that, long after leaving it (the following year, just as I finally begun healing), sent out a mass-email to almost a quarter of a million people in an attempt to shame me, “exposing” to them that following my wife divorcing me I started dating a co-worker, which was not to their liking, and therefore we were both fired.[4] So, I know what it feels like when someone – even Christians – tries to destroy you. This is obviously very unbiblical (Leviticus 19:16), but I would never put the blame on God. So, when sin comes your way, don’t handle it the devil’s way, but do what God did: guide, protect, rebuild, and forgive. Wounds are to be disinfected and covered, not salted. There is no point in kicking wounded people out of the hospital.

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9)

A few books have been written to show the parallels between the story of Adam and Eve and that of Israel. One example we already covered was that Adam and Eve functioned as priests over creation, just as the Levitical priests did over Israel. One of the priests’ roles was to cover for the faults, shame, and guilt of the people. Israel’s priests covered the sins of the people just as God covered the sin of Adam and Eve. But it shouldn’t stop with priests. Just as a parent seeks to cover for their children’s sins, shame, and guilt, so every Christian should seek to do with others. It’s called love, and we ought to love even our enemies. This kind of love is a skill that requires practice, so don’t stall…

Outside the Garden of Eden

Genesis chapter three ends with mankind’s exile from the tree of life. Yet, they were not banned from God himself. In fact, at the very beginning of the next chapter, God follows them outside the Garden. The infamous scene of Cain and Abel is not one where God is absent or separated. It is about a live, direct, and vivid relationship between the brothers and God. Cain and Abel were sinners who had a relationship with God. This proves that the issue mankind is having is not that we can’t have a relationship with God because we are sinners. The problem is that we can no longer reach the tree of life in the Garden. How do we fix it? If the Bible begins with the problem, the solution is found at the end. In Revelation 21-22, we read that once again, mankind will have access to the tree of life and will live once again, in the same neighborhood with God. The gospel is not about how God soothes his temper by killing Jesus. The gospel is about us returning to God after experiencing and learning what grace and love are through Jesus Christ! In the chapters following, God’s relationship with sinners continues. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other sinners have a close relationship with God. But it doesn’t stop with individuals. God loves sinners so much that he decided to have a relationship with a whole nation of them. Apparently, God doesn’t hate sinners. He loves them. He wants to draw near to them and reside in their midst. How different is this message from the one preached from many pulpits?

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

[1] Gotquestions.org is a very popular website managed exclusively by Michael Houdmann, a member of the Calvary Chapel movement.

[2] Genesis 4:4-5 describes a very real relationship between God and Cain and Abel.

[3] I am using “consequences” because although “punishment” is often used in referring to Genesis 3, that word is not actually in the text.

[4] My statement: www.eitan.bar/divorce

[i]Understanding Atonement”, Bruxy Cavey, bruxy.com. April 13, 2017.

[ii] The 2nd of “The Four Spiritual laws” (visited January 2022)

[iii] David Platt, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.” Multnomah, 2010, pp 35-36.

[iv] Philip Graham Ryken, “The Heart of the Cross”. Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, 2005. Pg 87.

[v] Paul Washer, “Discovering the Glorious Gospel”. HeartCry Missionary Society, Third edition; 2021, pp 49.

[vi] My emphasis in bold; “What are the consequences of sin?”, GotQuestion website. Visited January 2022.

[vii] Ivory Simion, “The War Between Men and Women”, Xlibris, 2009. Pg 20.

You may also like:

Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist