The ironic thing about social distancing is that it exacerbates the already social aloofness of a culture self-absorbed in its phones and other devices. Medical experts warn us to stay at least six feet away from other people to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Self-isolation must be much harder on the friendly extrovert than the shy introvert. In the near riot competition to get disinfectant and toilet paper, some people totally ignore the six foot rule. With tongue in cheek, my daughter suggested that the next step might be to have to cry out “unclean, unclean”, like the lepers once did to warn others (Lev 13:45-46).
Apart from the medical issue, there are a number of excuses that some folks use for distancing from their fellow humans. Some people are shunned due to their race, religion, poverty, appearance or social status. A good reason to shun someone would be if they present an immediate threat of violence. Some people join monasteries and convents to distance themselves from the temptation to sin. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day would not associate with the Samaritans (Jo 4:9) but Jesus taught a Samaritan woman spiritual truths while at a well (Jo 4:21, 26). That allowed many of the people of her town to believe in Him (Jo 4:39-42). The Apostle Peter once distanced himself from Christ three times even using curses by denying the fact that he knew his Lord (Jo 18:17, 25, 27) (Mt 26:74).
The saddest form of distancing comes about through pride, stubbornness and selfishness. Paul speaks of those who chose to reject God’s grace even though they knew Him. They became arrogant and God-haters (Rom 1:19, 30). James said, “Come near to God and He will come near to you…” (Ja 4:8). Jesus gives us two beautiful metaphors of how He will never distance Himself from His believers. The first was of a lost sheep that caused the shepherd to leave the other ninety-nine in order to find the wanderer (Mt 18:12-14). The second is His desire to be for us like a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings for warmth and protection (Lk 13:34). No spiritual distancing for our Savior, He stands at the door of our heart knocking and wanting to come in and dine with us (Rev 3:20). This is the antithesis of social, emotional, mental or economic distancing.