The coronavirus has not only changed our lifestyles, it’s changed our vocabulary. The names for the disease — Coronavirus or COVID-19 — are new, of course, since it’s never existed before. But one new term that has now become very common is “social distancing”.
At first, it meant staying one metre apart, but as the number of infections rose, it increased to two metres. The idea is to stay far enough from another person so that the infection cannot be passed on through the air or through touch. This new (and necessary) discipline got me thinking about another idea – spiritual distancing.
This new term (that I just invented) means keeping our distance from God. Many people are quite good at it and have practised it for some time. We are not surprised when people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists etc. keep their distance from God. But there are also many nominal (in name only) “Christians” who live their daily lives as practical atheists distancing themselves from God.
Recently, however, I read that Bible sales have been on the rise over the last few months. That’s a good sign that some people are sensing a greater need to connect with God and His Word than they did before. The number of online spiritual inquiries and people who say they are praying regularly has also increased.
The opposite of spiritual distancing is spiritual intimacy or drawing close to God. One of my favourite passages of Scripture is found in the Gospel of John in the New Testament. In chapter 15, Jesus describes a word picture that His hearers can visualize.
In verse 1, Jesus identifies Himself as a grapevine (well known in Israel) and God the Father as the gardener tending the vineyard. In verse 5, Jesus explains that His followers are the branches attached to the vine.
He then encourages His followers to stay closely attached (or spiritually intimate) with Him. If they do, then there are good results. We will be very fruitful (verse 5). This means that the good fruit of the Spirit (like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) will grow in our character. And this will also lead to the fruit of helping others on their journey to find God. Another good result will be answered prayer (verse 7).
However, the results of spiritual distancing are foreboding. Jesus says that these branches will be cut off (verse 2) and burned (verse 6). This is probably a reference to nominal Christians who appear to be following Christ (attached) but show by their lack of fruit that they really aren’t (detached).
Jesus’s vivid word picture relates to us today as much as it did to His listeners back then. Each of us chooses how close or how distant we want to be to the Lord. The Lord’s will is obvious. He wants all of us to be spiritually close or intimate with Him so that we can experience joyful, meaningful and abundant lives (verse 11).
I hope that describes you. If it doesn’t, and you realize you’ve been spiritually distancing yourself from God, then there’s no better time than right now to change that.
Rob Weatherby is a retired pastor who served the Bethel Baptist church family in Whitefish.