The Test of Distance

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Covid-19 has brought a new term, unheard of even one year ago – social distancing. But the concept was not new. All through the ages, people at times distanced themselves from others for a variety of reasons. But distance can have some very real tests for us.
We were created social beings with whom God wanted to fellowship. This is part of the reality of being made in the image of God. That is what was going on when God walked with Adam in the cool of the day in Genesis. That’s what took Enoch from earth, walking with God and God took him. While temperaments vary, our basic nature is much the same. We enjoy fellowship and need it.
When fellowship is cut-off or impeded, we experience a void that begs to be filled somehow. It can prompt us to irritability and sadness. It can even cause despair that wishes to end life. Solitary confinement is used in prisons as a form of punishment or a means of control of some persons. In 2011, the United Nations concluded that solitary confinement for longer than 15 consecutive days constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Humans have a strong desire for togetherness with others.
When fellowship with others is limited or cut-off, we have the opportunity to evaluate how much our relationship with Jesus means to us. How much do we get from fellowship with Him? It is good to be forced to stop and ponder this question. In normal busy times, we can neglect that communion with God. Could we stay faithful sitting in a prison cell alone with only God to commune with? Many Christians have faced this test and still are facing it today in other countries.
Sometimes married couples in distress resort to social distance. The Bible speaks to this problem. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (1Co 7:5). It is hurtful and unkind to withhold love and fellowship from our spouse. This verse recognizes that there are possibilities of added temptations when there is forced social distance between spouses.
It is indeed sad when a husband and wife enjoy distance from each other rather than closeness. It goes against the very design of God. Why would a godly man enjoy long-distance truck driving for an occupation? Why should Christian women delight to see their husbands leave for the week so they can have personal space and time? Godly couples should be creative in finding ways to be together more, not less! Children should grow up with both Mother and Father actively involved in home life. Mealtime around the table with the whole family should be a norm for Christian families. Family worship with the entire family brings a blessing from God that families need.
What happens in our hearts when we find ourselves alone out in another community where no one knows us? Or what do we do when we’re alone in an airport? I remember a Sunday, years ago, when generator emergency service work called me to a remote community. I didn’t have a packed meal along. I needed gas in my truck, and I was hungry. I stopped for some supplies. Something seemed so strange. This was the Lord’s Day, but I was out working and now buying. Suddenly it felt like perhaps nothing really mattered anymore. That’s one of the greatest tests of distance! Alone and out of normal circumstances, what will we do?
Daniel and his three friends faced this test way down in Babylon. Who would ever know what they did? So many of their Jewish ways and practices were shattered and gone. Did anything matter? But we know how they chose to stay faithful to the same God we serve today. They held onto the core truths of right and wrong. They provide inspiration for us yet today to be faithful when everything around us changes, and perhaps no one would ever know what we do.
What happened to us when we didn’t go to church for several weeks in a row? Did our choices and practice reflect a character committed to the same principles and directives as before? Did our Sunday practice of worship and rest honor the same principles? Did our music choices matter? Did our personal appearance honor our standards? Or was this a time to experiment with things we didn’t do before? That’s the test of distance! What will we allow ourselves to do when we are pretty much alone?
We’ve always faced this test of “Sunday religion.” The concept that during the week we can live one way, but change for Sunday church appearance. Some types of jobs have more of this test. When we work among the world with no other brethren around, we feel this pressure. Do we get used to their radio songs? Do we pick up their street language? Does our work appearance and practices have any reflection of Jesus Christ in them? Is there a difference between us and the world? Do they know we are a righteous man of God?
Sometimes individuals choose to leave the brotherhood. They say they need more space. They are tired of people minding their business. But usually, it means they left one group of associates and joined another. Very few people become hermits, alone and separate from others. These people leave the church because they don’t like the social pressure and demands of conformity to Bible principle. But they take on a “new social pressure.” They conform to new demands of conformity—conformity to the world.
God help us to pass the tests of distance we face at times. May we be as faithful when out in our communities as we are among God’s people. Let’s make the choice to be always ready to answer for our lives and our choices because our God is everywhere present. There is no distance possible from our Judge for eternity, until in eternal Hellfire! He sees and hears everything we do and say in this life.