Estranged Relationships: God Understands

In my family of origin, estrangement is commonplace. For nearly half of my childhood, there was at least one relative, if not more, that we did not communicate with. Of course, there was always some reason for why they had done something terrible and we were in the right, but the truth is the estrangements hardly ever made sense to me as a kid. Little did I expect, that estrangement would be a relational quality passed down a generation. Now I’m an adult, and I am estranged from some of my relatives.

Even though, at times, it feels like I'm alone in this struggle with estrangement, the numbers say I'm not. According to numerous scientific surveys, about one-fourth of adult Americans aren’t speaking to at least one family member. The reasons for these estrangements are numerous and among other things include abuse, neglect, betrayal, politics, class, and education. Estrangements can last days, weeks, or even years. Estrangement is not uncommon, but it is not God’s desire for our relationships.

In this two-part series, I’m going to share some well-known stories from the Bible that can encourage us to be thankful for how God understands the pain of estrangement and provides hope for healing estranged relationships.

Intended for shalom

God did not intend for humanity to live estranged or alone. He created a world in which humans would live together in shalom. Shalom means peace, wholeness, and harmony. We were meant to live at peace with God, one another, and the rest of creation. There was never supposed to be abuse, betrayal, or abandonment that would sever relationships.

Sin corrupts shalom

Estrangement is a consequence of sinful actions. Adam and Eve’s first bite of the forbidden fruit led to estrangement from God, each other, and the Garden. Likewise, estrangements today happen as a result of sinful decisions and actions. That doesn’t mean that all people in estranged relationships are living in sin. You may be estranged from someone in your life for physical and emotional safety, and that threat to your safety is a result of sin. Any act of abuse that causes people to flee finds its origin in sin.

God walks with us

I don’t know why God has allowed me a life that has been marked by estrangement. It’s not the story I would have written for myself. Sometimes, I resent God for letting it happen. Yet, as I reflect on who God is in the person of Jesus Christ, I’m reminded that I may not know why estrangements happen, but I do know Jesus is right here with me in the thick of it.

Estrangement in Jesus’ death

Jesus not only taught about estrangement, he also suffered it. In his most vulnerable hour, one of his closest followers, Judas, betrayed him for some pocket money. Then, when his close friend, Peter, should have been there for him, he denied ever knowing Jesus. Yet, most painfully of all, as Jesus breathes his final breath, he feels estranged from his Father in heaven and cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knew every ounce of grief, confusion, and anger that comes from an estranged relationship.

Jesus models forgiveness

Jesus chose the courageous path of forgiveness amid estrangement. Remember his word to the soldiers from the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus refused to be the reason others would not come to him. After the resurrection, Jesus meets his disciples on a beach. While Peter is out fishing, Jesus begins preparing some breakfast for them to share. When Peter looks back across the water and sees Jesus, I can only imagine the kind of shame that must have flooded his body, but to Peter’s surprise, Jesus doesn’t hold it against him but instead invites him to breakfast. In this moment, forgiveness, grace, and love, signs of new creation, restore Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Jesus shows those of us in estranged relationships that we may be unable to control other people’s behavior, but we are always responsible for our own.

The Father models welcome

Time and again, the gospel proclaims to us that all which is broken will at one day be made new. This hope is secure because the Jesus that hung on the cross, estranged from his Father, was welcomed back into his heavenly home when he ascended. As the Father welcomed his Son who bore the sins of the world, so he welcomes every sinner who puts their faith in the risen Christ.

If you are experiencing estrangement in one or more of your relationships, then know that I wish you didn’t have to go through all that you are going through. You are not alone. Many other people are experiencing estrangement too. It’s not what God intends for his good creation, but your savior, Jesus Christ knows what you are going through and is walking with you every step of the way. 

May God guide you into the restorative path of new creation.

About the author — Rev. Travis Jamieson

Travis Jamieson pastors a church in the heart of Silicon Valley and hosts The Faith (In)Forming Podcast. He’s married to Annie and they have two beautiful red-headed children

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