What Does it Mean to be "Cut Off" from God?
Q: How are we supposed to understand what Jehovah meant when he told Adam and Eve that the day they eat from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, they will positively die? (Gen 2:15)
This is such an excellent question, and there's never been an
adequate explanation by the Watchtower Society. Some postulated
that Peter's words at 2 Peter 3:8 may provide the answer when he
says that a thousand years is like a day to God. Since Adam only
lived to be 930 years old, he technically did not live a full "day".
However, there's a compelling argument that the apostle Peter was
speaking figuratively here to show how Jehovah views the passage of
time and should not be taken literally.
It is interesting to note how Jehovah describes death, especially when it is incurred as a result of breaking one or more of his laws. Consider the following scriptures:
Genesis 9:11 - "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Genesis 17:14 - "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
Leviticus 7:21 - "And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people.”
There are many more examples, and in most cases the phrase "be cut off from his people" is used. It is never used to describe those who die faithful to Jehovah. By Jehovah's own words, we can begin to understand what "death" really means from His perspective. It is much more than just a physical death. It literally means that that person is "cut off" from Jehovah, as Jehovah will have no more dealings with that person. Not only that, but being cut off from Jehovah also means being cut off from the source of all life by means of his holy spirit. (Ecc 12:7)
When the first human couple sinned against Jehovah, they were at that moment, permanently "cut off" from Him. Their relationship with him was dissolved due to their disobedience. The fact that they did not immediately die is irrelevant, as their death was certain to occur. (Gen 3:19) After Jehovah confronted them regarding their rebellion and expelled them from the Garden of Eden, he never spoke to them again. It cannot be underestimated what that meant to Adam and Eve. Not only were they under the condemnation of death, but they had to fend for themselves as the earth was gradually filled with their offspring, most of whom did not acknowledge Jehovah. The situation deteriorated quickly, starting with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (interesting to note that Jehovah did intercede to warn Cain of his wrong course; the reason for that is explained later), all the way to the point where the entire earth was "filled with violence" requiring Jehovah to bring a global calamity to cleanse the earth. (Gen 6:11,13)
When we understand that simple fact, we understand what Jesus meant when he talked about death. Consider the following:
Matthew 22:31, 32 - "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
Though the Sadducees were no doubt puzzled by what Jesus said in response to their far-fetched scenario regarding the woman who had 7 husbands who were all brothers, Jesus really was showing Jehovah's view of the matter. Notice that Jesus recited Jehovah's proclamation that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is puzzling from a human viewpoint, because Jesus' next words that Jehovah is the God of the living, and not the dead, though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had already been dead for centuries. This brings us to how Jehovah views those who are faithful to him until death or otherwise not cut off from him. The prophet Daniel gives us some insight:
Daniel 12:2 - "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
Yes, Jehovah views such ones as merely sleeping. This also explains why we never read of Jehovah mourning for his faithful servants when they die. He doesn't mourn because they're merely "sleeping in the dust of the earth". We do not mourn when a loved one goes to sleep in the evening because there is no reason to, for they will wake up again in the morning; although we may miss them terribly and weep (mourn) should they move away and we may not see them again for a long time. Just as sure as they will wake up from sleep, those who are not cut off from Jehovah will wake up from death as Daniel tells us.
There are other examples. When Jesus heard of Lazarus' death, he told his disciples that he was "sleeping", and was going to go to "wake him up". (John 11:11) The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, tells them not to grieve for those who die, as they're merely sleeping awaiting the resurrection, which starts with the anointed. (1 Thess 4:13-16)
It is comforting to know that though we are descendants of Adam and Eve, we are not doomed to be cut off from Jehovah as they were cut off. (Rom. 5:14) This has been possible on account of the very first prophecy uttered by Jehovah, which included the promise of a seed by means of whom God would redeem mankind. This is what God promised: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” We know that the offspring ("seed" in the NWT) was Christ Jesus, and by means of his sacrifice we are given the same opportunity Adam had, namely, the prospect of everlasting life, provided that we are obedient. (John 3:16; Gal. 3:16) Since everything that God says is sure to come true, he applies any benefits of his promises to all those who exercises faith in them even long before they have been fulfilled. (Isaiah 46:9-11; 55:11; Heb. 11:13) It is faith in Christ's sacrifice that makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God, so we are not cut off like those who wilfully defy Jehovah, as Paul explains:
2 Corinthians 5:18 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."
The original Greek word for "reconcile" (katallássō) is defined as "returning to favour" or "to receive one into favour". We can be happy that Jehovah has provided the means for us to enjoy a father-son relationship with him, the same one that Adam forfeited. This amazing relationship leads to everlasting life for all who are obedient to God. (Compare Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 6:14-18)
"Watch the blameless one and keep the upright one in sight, For the future of that man will be peaceful. But the transgressors themselves will certainly be annihilated together; The future of wicked people will indeed be cut off."―Psalms 37:37,38