Genesis holds the key to so much truth about God and His ways. In the beginning, God separated a lot of things, on purpose, and called it “good”. How can separation be good? Separation sounds like such a hard and unpleasant word. Wholeness and unity sound way better. Yet many times in the Bible God makes a distinction between one thing and another while Satan tries to blur the lines, or even erase them. Here are a few reasons why difference and distinction can be so important.
In Genesis God separated…
In the Genesis narrative, the phrase “God separated” occurs over and over again. In Hebrew the root word is בָּדַל, and the verb lehavdil (להבדיל), is to separate out, disjoin, divide, or distinguish something that was previously mixed together.
God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:4)
God separated the waters above from the waters below. (Genesis 1:7)
God separated the day from the night. (Genesis 1:14)
When we look at how God created all the different animals in their various forms, and filled the earth with a massive array of different kinds of vegetation, we get a glimpse into God’s purposes in making all the separate species. With all the variety comes great beauty. Have you ever marveled at a beautiful garden with all kinds of trees and foliage, flowers and plants, and thought how beautiful it all looks together?
Like a mosaic, there is great beauty—even more beauty—in difference and variety. Separation results in the beauty of unity in diversity.
The different seasons, the different times of day… it all enriches our experience of life in a beautiful and profound way. Nature and wildlife in all its many forms continues to stun believers and unbelievers alike with wonder. Nature is wild and varied, yet one. Wouldn’t it be boring if there was just one season? One type of animal? One type of tree? We also see a similar picture as Paul describes the different gifts we each have in the Body of Messiah in 1 Corinthians 12. As Paul said, it would be a pretty rubbish body if we were all one big eye, or a massive hand. Our differences are something to celebrate, not resent or erase!
And then he made man, and then separated woman from out of the man. Male and female He created them.
God separated out one from the other in Genesis chapter 2. The interesting inference then is that initially, “man” contained the elements of both man and woman, but God separated them so they could relate to one another. Secular humanism has tried to fix misogyny by trying to shove everyone into the same mould, and encourage women to behave as men instead of valuing womanhood as distinct and equally valuable. And now the lines of distinction are getting blurred beyond belief, contravening God’s created order. Learning to be happy with who we are and how God made us is not easy in a world where the temptation to wish we were someone else is strong. Yet our diversity displays God’s glory, especially when working together in harmony. Following Paul’s teaching, each of us needs to embrace the unique contribution we can bring to the world. There is only one of you, and you are deeply loved, just the way you are. Resisting the enemy’s pressure to conform to the world is a lifelong battle, but worth the fight.
Another separation God makes in the beginning is the difference between regular and holy in His creation of Shabbat.
There’s nothing sinful or bad about the other days of the week, but Shabbat is holy to the Lord, set aside for Him. Shabbat is a time when we can enjoy just being; relating to each other, to creation, and to God without working or striving. Just as many married couples have regular “date nights” to keep their relationship strong, so God created this day for us to enjoy our relationship with Him. Without that time set aside, it’s all too easy for life to take over and the most important matters get sidelined. Shabbat is God’s gift to us, made for mankind, as part of the creation narrative in Genesis. The difference between “holy” and regular is not necessarily the same as between “good” and “bad”, but this distinction of setting the Shabbat aside, sanctifying it and separating it from all the other days, is an important principle that God builds on throughout His word.
Later on, in Exodus, God’s law differentiates many times between Israel and the nations, saying they are a holy, called-out people.
The people of Israel were chosen by God to act differently, eat differently, farm differently, dress differently…. They were set apart, separated. They were to be a presentation of God and His ways to the earth, even though it would mostly be by way of God showing His faithfulness in the light of Israel’s unfaithfulness. God’s priests were to teach the difference between holy and not holy:
They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. (Ezekiel 44:23)
God separated them so that we could get to know His ways—not because Israel was better in any way, but for God’s redemptive plans for the whole world. Many people resist this distinction by quoting Galatians 3:28 saying there’s no difference between Jew and Gentile now, but forget that it also says there’s no difference between man and woman! And it’s true, before God we are equal. One is not “better” than the other. We are equally loved and have equal access.
But just as the distinctions of our God-given gender identity remains, so God still sees Jew and Gentile, even when we are one in Jesus. Becoming one does not erase who we are.
Worship the Creator, not creation!
Today, Pantheism is on the rise, which is the erroneous belief that all matter is one, and erases the distinction between us and God. We were created to worship our Creator and experience His love for us. Yet we are seeing a return to paganism in many of the nations around the world. Essentially, paganism worships creation rather than Creator.
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:25)
In lowering God to the status of His own handiwork, these vain philosophies are trying to strip God of His sovereignty. By refusing to acknowledge God as Creator they deny His right to rule and reign over us. But living in denial does not alter the truth. God is King, God is Lord of Creation, and He will judge the living and the dead by His standards, not ours. I am definitely not God, and what a sad state of affairs it would be if He were me! Mercifully the final decisions are in God’s hands, not ours. He is perfectly good and perfectly wise, and He will judge rightly. We are fools to think we can make up the rules for ourselves. We are not God, and God is not us.
In Genesis 12, Abraham was sent out of paganism, out of this polytheism where the “gods” were part of creation like the sun, moon and stars. In this way of thinking each can have their own viewpoint, devise their own version of morality… but there is only one morality. There is only one yardstick. And it is in the hands of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Today we see people imagining that they are in charge of their own destiny, accountable only to their own ideas. It’s like the time of the judges in the Bible where each did what was right in his own eyes. In choosing this path people dismiss God’s love for them, and miss out on the whole meaning of life.
Babel and boundary stones
Another violation of separateness and distinction can be found in the Torah in the moving of boundary stones:
Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless (Proverbs 23:10).
This proverb repeats commandments found in Deuteronomy 19:14 and 27:17. Crossing boundaries without permission, or worse moving the boundary stones, was out of bounds in God’s book. Boundaries protect property, and separated one family’s inheritance from another’s. Today many think that by condoning open borders they are caring for the weak and vulnerable. After all, why shouldn’t rich countries share their wealth? But moving boundary stones or disposing of them altogether does not, in the end, produce the results people may be hoping for. For one thing, how would the poorer nation maintain its own autonomy and resist colonization?
Boundaries are necessary for identity, community, and generosity: If all property is common, giving becomes redundant—people can help themselves to whatever they want. You don’t have to consider this idea for too long before realizing it’s not a one-way ticket to utopia. Poverty and need should be met with compassion and generosity, as exemplified in the Book of Acts chapters 2 and 4, where the needy were helped because people chose to give voluntarily. The Bible is explicit about God’s expectation that we do care for the needy—it will not go well for us on judgement day if we don’t. But that is still a choice for each person, and each nation, to make. Freely. Because God gives us free will. The alternative is people taking what is not being given voluntarily, otherwise known as theft. Boundaries prevent violation.
Different countries have different cultures and blurring distinctions ends up eliminating that difference, as happened in Genesis 11. God sees nations as unique, with specific callings and destinies, and characteristics. These differences are glorious, like the diversity in all of creation.
Removing borders leads to sprawling empires.
If there’s one thing history teaches us, even the history of missions, it’s that imposing one culture on another is violation. Unity is one thing, uniformity is another. We need to respect and uphold each nation’s right to be separated from others, to be who they are, to live according to their own cultures and traditions.
“The God who made the world and everything in it… made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:24-27)
It was God’s intention and will to have different nations and countries, tribes and tongues. He wanted the earth to be fruitful and filled (Genesis 1:28). The inverse of respecting boundary stones is war, conquest, empire, and results in Babel-style globalism. The human desire to erase differences and separateness and to build an empire of all the nations fused into one monstrosity. A beast, if you will. We are steadily heading towards this, according to God’s word, but this forced amalgamation of the nations is a counterfeit of God’s real peace plan, which will come at the end of time.
When we accept we’re separated, we can choose to unite
In the beginning, God separated, but at the end, He unites. The end result of real love is unity. The free choice of people submitting their wills to one another, and joining together, voluntarily, as one. This does not erase difference, but it is beautiful and glorious, like a bouquet of flowers or an orchestra of many instruments.
In order to have good relationships with others, in order to really be close and become one, we need healthy boundaries. We each have to learn how to take proper responsibility for our own lives while respecting the choices of others, otherwise relationships can become violating.
Here is the magnificent thing: Separateness creates the conditions for love.
In Genesis God made male and female separate, but they became “one flesh”, united through voluntary love and connection with one another, through choice. If we autonomously and freely choose to love someone, then that love is real. If there is no freedom, if there is no distinction, there can be no love. In order for love to exist, we must be free: free from being determined, pressurized, or controlled. We can see the extent of freedom and respect that God gives us, as right away after completing creation He hands it over to Adam. God has authority over what He has made, yet gives Adam dominion over it, even knowing what would happen! This is the degree to which our freedom and autonomy matters to God. Because He wants us to freely love Him. And because He is a separate Being, we can also enjoy His love which He freely lavishes on us. The same could not be said if He was just an impersonal force, or nature itself.
An end to all separation
Jesus prayed that we would be one, as He and the Father are One. And that day is coming. Jesus is coming as the bridegroom for His glorious bride, made up of men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. As the elites of the world conspire to rebuild Babel by erasing the boundaries God has put in place, God’s way is for us to voluntarily connect to one another in unity, with generosity and no compulsion. Just as a healthy marriage has two free partners who choose to submit to each other in love, so we can join together to worship God with all kinds of other believers. He loves that.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133)
Ultimately there will be another great separation to end all separation: God will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, those whose names are written in the Book of Life and those who are not. Then those who have accepted the righteousness that only comes from Jesus and His sacrifice for us will go with Him into eternity, those who refuse God’s gift of forgiveness will be thrown into the lake of fire. There will no longer be clean and unclean, day or night, or sea, or even marriage—except the ultimate wedding of Jesus and His people. We will no longer need to experience the pain of separation because we will be one with Him, as Jesus and the Father are one. The great desire of Jesus, expressed in His high priestly prayer, will finally be fulfilled.
Picture by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash