Sin is Separation

Sin is Separation

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2

From an early age I was taught, mostly from my church, that I was a sinner. I believed my thoughts and actions were unacceptable to God, and the only thing I could do about it was try to hide my awful nature from others. I pretended to be a good little boy to friends and relatives, and especially to people at church so they would consider me one of them – the good and the chosen – instead of the wretched misfit I was certain I must be. I do not recall my parents instilling this aberrant self-image, but sin was a regular focus in church. That God knew my every thought and watched my every action convinced me I would undoubtedly spend eternity in hell. As I grew toward adulthood, I began to suspect I was no worse than most other folks I knew, so if I were condemned to hell, I would be in good company. I realized that everyone sinned, and that sin is a common and shared characteristic of humanity, not just something only I struggled with.

I read once that sin is separation. That perspective opens up an entirely new understanding of sin for me: Sin is what sets us apart – apart from God and apart from each other. When I sin against you, I do something that divides us, something that harms our relationship, not because I am a horrible person, but because I sometimes act in immature, self-interested ways. In order to restore our relationship, I must confess my sin (admit what I did wrong), repent (turn around or change my behavior), and seek your forgiveness (ask you to reengage our relationship). That sounds like a sincere apology for a relationship worth maintaining. Sin, seen in this light, is not so much a product of an inherently evil nature as much as a natural stage in our growth and maturation as human beings. Sometimes we intentionally behave in ways we know will not endear ourselves to others, other times those actions are completely unintentional. Eventually, most of us learn from our acts of separatism that our lives go better by maintaining strong, close, and healthy relationships with others.

In religious tradition, the original sin occurred in the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve defying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their punishment was expulsion from the Garden where they had enjoyed a direct, unfettered relationship with God. In other words, their expulsion separated them from God. I now believe the original sinwas not the eating of the fruit, but the leaving of the Garden itself – the original separation from God. The very act of a soul taking on flesh and blood and becoming human is an act of separation – a sinful act – because as humans we enter a reality that we perceive as individualistic, separate, and not spiritual in the way God is Spirit. From our human vantage point, we cannot see God, nor can we perceive our interconnectedness with others. We seem to stand alone. And that illusion of separation is at the heart of all our problems, both personal and social.

Some of us are quick to point out the sins of others without mentioning how common and even necessary sin is to our growth as physical and spiritual beings. In the very act of judging another as bad or sinful, we commit sin ourselves by driving a wedge between another and ourselves. Thus, Jesus’s command not to judge.[1] Jesus offers atonement at-ONE-ment – bringing God back into our conscious awareness, not so much by his death and resurrection but by the life he modeled for us to follow. That way of life keeps us close to God and others.

When I was a child, I had a miserable self-image because I did not feel worthy being in close relationship with God or anyone else. Yet, being in close relationships was what I most needed to improve my feelings of worthiness. Because I felt internally wretched, I kept my distance from others, thus perpetuating my sin of separateness. Learning that sin is not an indication of evil as much as immaturity helped me recognize and celebrate that I am created in the image and likeness of God, just like everyone else. We are loved and accepted as we are, and the sooner we accept our place with God and others in love, the sooner our self-image as an evil sinner can transform into one of belonging and worthiness.

This is an updated version of a Life Note first published in July of 2016. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of others. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at

[1] Matthew 7:1-5.

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