The Questioning God

#1—Where are you?

Genesis 3:1-10

 

Opening:

          How many of you have ever played hide and seek with small children?  They run off and hide while you close your eyes and count to twenty.  Then you yell, “Ready or not, here I come.”  You start looking.  “Are they in the closet?  No.  Under the bed?  No.  Where are they?”  Pretty soon, you start to hear uncontrollable giggles.  Or (my favorite), when you say, “Where are you?” a little voice behind the couch says, “Over here.”  They want to be found!

          Today we’re going to read the story of our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, hiding from God.  But when God comes looking for them and calls, “Where are you?” they don’t want to be found.  Something has gone terribly wrong in the game!  God is looking for you; He’s calling, “Where are you?”  Are you going to keep hiding, or say, “Over here”? 

 

Introduction:       

How many of you have questions for God?  I do too. There have been times when I have asked, “Where are you, God?  Why did you let this happen?  Do you love me?”  The Bible is full of people questioning God. 

  • Read the Psalms.  They are full of questions for God.  Here’s a great one: “How long, O Lord, how long?”  That question is asked over a dozen times in the Psalms.  How many of you have asked God, “how long?  When are you going to change this?”
  • Or the classic is the book of Job.  After losing everything—his wealth, his health, and worst of all, his children—Job questions God.  “Why are you doing this to me?”
  • Even Jesus questioned God, crying out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We all question God at times, and it’s ok to question God—He can handle it. Over the years, I’ve had many questions for God; some have been answered, some haven’t.  One of the things I look forward to in heaven is being able to ask God my questions face-to-face, and get answers for some of the things that I just don’t understand here. 

          So we all have questions for God; but did you know that God also has questions for us?  In the Bible, God often asks questions of people; He is the Questioning God.  I became aware of this in January while I was doing my devotions.  Our Bible reading plan starts in Genesis—at the beginning—a very good place to start!  I read the story of Adam and Eve, and then Cain and Able, and I was struck by the questions God asked them.  I spent some time reflecting on these questions, imagining God asking them of me.  And the more I thought about them, the more I thought it would be good for all of us to let God ask these questions of us.  So let’s read the story in Genesis 3, and we’ll let God ask us the first question: “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:1-10

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  Notice that the serpent casts doubt on God’s word: “Did God really say…?”  And he also distorts God’s word: “you must not eat fruit from any of the trees in the garden.”  God said, “You may eat fruit from all the trees in the garden, except one.”  The devil is still doing this: tempting us to disobey God by casting doubt on God’s word, or distorting it.

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’ ”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”  Now the serpent openly contradicts God’s word: “you won’t die!” He insinuates that God has lied to them, and is trying to keep something wonderful from them.  “God knows…”  God knows that eating this fruit will make you wise; in fact, God knows it will make you like Him—like God!—and He doesn’t want that.  “There’s more…God is holding out on you!”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.  Just 8 verses earlier, at the end of chapter two, the man and his wife were naked and felt no shame.  Shame makes its first appearance here, after they disobey God—for the first time, they feel shame and guilt, and they cover up.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Let’s break it down.

 

1. The Big Idea: God wants a relationship with you.

          In verse 8, the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  What was God up to?  What’s going on here?  Traditionally, most Bible scholars and interpreters have understood this to mean that God was coming to meet with Adam and Eve as he usually did.  This is God dropping in for evening coffee, something He did every day around this time, coming to enjoy a little conversation with His children.

          There’s a big idea inherent in this story.  God wants a relationship with you—a personal relationship, a conversational relationship.  

          We are created for a relationship.  God made us for Himself.  We were created in God’s image, with the capacity to know God and be known by Him, to love God and be loved by Him.  There in the garden, we have a glimpse of what life was meant to be—we were created for a relationship with God. 

ILL: Why do married couples want to have children?  Some of you have wondered, haven’t you?  “Why did we want to have these kids?”  Kids are expensive and time-consuming!  You’ll have a lot more free time and disposable income if you don’t have kids!  So why do we do it?  Why do we want children?  I believe that the biggest single reason we want to have kids is for relationship.  We want to love and be loved.  We want our kids to grow up and love us as we love them.  And of course the real reason we want to have kids is to get grandkids!  It is all about relationship.

I think that our desire for children reflects God’s heart toward us. 

There is nothing more meaningful or rewarding than loving and being loved.  It is part of our nature—I believe it is part of our nature that reflects the nature of God.  We are made in His image, and God is love.  God created us to love Him and be loved by Him.  We in turn have children to love and be loved.  This is why there is nothing more painful than when our children reject us or rebel against us or refuse to have a relationship with us.  It violates the fundamental reason for their being!  And any of you who have suffered the pain of a rebellious child have some small taste of God’s pain that He feels for us.

God made us for a relationship with Him.  God wants a relationship with you.  And in this story, it is God who takes the initiative in the relationship.  It is God who comes to Adam and Eve each day.  It is God who seeks them out.  In the same way, God seeks us out for relationship, communion, conversation.  God is looking for you!  He is the seeking God, seeking a relationship with you. 

I say this all the time: Christianity is fundamentally relational.  God wants to have a relationship with you.  This is why He created you, and why Christ came to redeem you.  It’s all about a relationship.  We are so prone to reduce it to religion: a set of beliefs about God and behaviors for God, but not necessarily a relationship with God

Is what you believe important?  Absolutely!  It is very important, because the right beliefs can lead you into a relationship with God, and wrong beliefs will keep you far from Him.  If I don’t believe that God is there, that He loves me, that He wants me, I won’t have a relationship with Him.  Beliefs are important. 

Are behaviors important?  Absolutely!  Wrong behaviors can keep me from God.  Like Adam and Eve, disobedience can send me running for the bushes when God shows up for coffee—it can keep me from God.  Behaviors are important.

But when we reduce Christianity to a creed we believe, and a set of behaviors we perform—when we separate beliefs and behaviors from a relationship with God himself—we miss the point.  We can even end up believing and behaving to keep God off our backs, at arm’s length.  We can be the older brother in the story of the prodigal son—doing all the right things, slaving for our father, but far from him in our hearts.   

Don’t reduce Christianity to religion, just a creed and some do’s and don’ts.  God wants a relationship with you; God is looking for you.  This is the Big Idea.

So God comes walking in the garden in the cool of the day, wanting to spend some time with Adam and Eve.  But instead of finding them waiting for Him with a hot caramel macchiato, they are nowhere to be found.  No Adam and Eve, no coffee, no welcome…nothing.  “Where are you?”

 

2. The question: where are you?

          That’s the question: where are you?

          The question was rhetorical, not literal.  God knew where they were.  Remember, He is God; He knows everything, so He knew where they were. God was asking the question for their benefit, not His.  This is true of every question God asks us: it is for our benefit, not His.  God knew where they were; they needed to know where they were.  Something had changed in their relationship with God, so He asked them, “Where are you?”

          The first week in January, when I read this passage in my devotions, I felt God ask me, “Where are you?”  That week, I ran into a couple people who hadn’t been to church in awhile.  “Where have you been?” I asked them.  Struggling.  Feeling guilty, or ashamed, or angry, or discouraged.  Hiding.  I tried to encourage them, and as I prayed for them, I kept hearing God asking this question: “Where are you.”   But He was asking it of me.  He was inviting me into relationship, asking me to join Him for coffee.

          I’ve really wrestled with this question.  My relationship with God has not been as warm, as intimate, as conversational as it has been at other times. 

          I’ve had seasons where I pray and feel God’s presence and hear God’s whisper; I know He is speaking to me.  I remember one season where I was determined to hear from God, and was struggling to do it during the day because of all the busyness and distractions, so I set my alarm and got up every night at 3 AM to pray for an hour.  I went downstairs so I wouldn’t wake anyone, and I had some awesome conversations with the Lord.  I really felt Him and heard Him.  One night, I just couldn’t stay awake; I tried to pray and kept falling back asleep.  Finally, I gave up and said, “Lord, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it tonight.  I’m going back to bed.”  I felt like God smiled and said, “That’s ok.  I’m glad you were here.  Thanks for trying.” 

          Lately, I haven’t felt God’s presence that same way, haven’t heard His voice like that.  I do my devotions faithfully—PBJ time every day—read my Bible, get one thing, write it down in my journal, pray it back to God.  But I often feel like I’m going through the motions.  “Where are you?” He asks me.

          I think I’m like Martha.  You remember the story in Luke 10—Jesus visits Mary and Martha’s home.  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and just listens while Martha is so busy setting the table and fixing the meal that she is distracted—she pays no attention to Jesus.  Finally, Martha blows her top.  “Lord, don’t you think it’s unfair that I’m doing all the work while Mary sits there?  Tell her to get up and help me.”  And Jesus says, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details.  There is only one thing worth being concerned about and Mary has discovered it; I won’t take it away from her.” 

          I’m like Martha—except I’m a guy! 

ILL: Recently Andy was explaining to Jenna (picture), my lovely 2.5 year old granddaughter, the difference between boys and girls.  Andy said, “Mommie is a girl.  Daddy is a boy.  Nanna is a girl.  Grampa is a boy.”  Jenna interrupted and said, “Uh-huh.  Grampa is a stud!”  I wonder where she got that?

So even though I’m a stud, I’m like Martha.  I’m so busy serving Jesus that I don’t take time to just sit at His feet.  Wait.  Be still.  Listen. I do my devotions, but I’m on the clock.  Gotta get ‘em done and move on to the next thing.  I’m always in a hurry, always thinking about what’s next, rather than being fully in the moment.  Do my devotions—check.  What’s next?  “Where are you?” He asks me.

ILL: Last month several of us had a telephone conference call with David Opap.  When David answered, we all said hi, and then Dana said, “Let’s talk about the well.”  There was a moment of silence, then David said, “How are you, Dana?”  Dana laughed and said, “Oh, yeah, that relationship thing.” 

I’m that way when I talk with God.  I’ve got all these situations, all these people to pray for—it’s a big list.  I dive into my list, and God asks, “How are you, Joe?”  Oh, yeah, that relationship thing.  “Where are you?” He asks me.  God wants a relationship with me.

          God wants a relationship with you.  Where are you?  Where are you in relation to God?  Here’s Adam’s answer:

 

3. The answer: I’m hiding.

          There are many possible answers to the question. Adam’s answer was, “I’m hiding.” They were hiding from God, avoiding God, running from God.  Of course, hiding from God is an exercise in futility! 

Psalm 139:1-6

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

        You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

        You see me when I travel

and when I rest at home.

You know everything I do.

        You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.

        You go before me and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing on my head.

        Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too great for me to understand!

How can you hide from the God who knows everything?  Who knows every thought in your mind, every word you’ll say before you speak it, every hair on your head before you lose it?  God knows where you are.  You can’t hide.  But Adam tried.  They were not only hiding from God, but from each other; they used to be “naked and not ashamed”, now they were covering themselves up from each other.

          People still try to hide from God.  How do we hide?  We drop out of church and Life Group. We avoid Christians. We stop reading our Bible or praying.  We hide from God by avoiding anything or anybody that has to do with Him, that reminds us of Him.  Like Adam, we mistakenly think that by hiding, God won’t find us; God will leave us alone.  We underestimate the intensity of His love for us. God wants a relationship with you and He won’t be so easily refused. He is the Hound of Heaven, relentless in His pursuit of you.

          Where are you? “I’m hiding” is one answer.  There are other answers to that question. 

          “I’m not interested.”  There are people who don’t want a relationship with God, whose response is simply, “Leave me alone; I’m not interested in You.” 

          “I’m busy.”  This is a common response.  God calls and gets a busy signal; He leaves a message but we’re too busy to return His call.  He invites us into relationship and we say, “Not now; maybe later.  After I finish school; after I get my career established; after the kids are grown and out of the house; after I’ve sown my wild oats.  Later.  I’m really busy right now.” 

          “I’m right here; let’s talk.”  This is the answer God is looking for.  We read the story of Samuel this week in our Bible reading plan.  When Samuel was just a boy, God came calling.  “Samuel, Samuel.”  Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice yet; he thought Eli, the old priest, was calling, so he went and woke him up and said, “Here I am.”  This happened three times; finally, Eli realized that God was calling the boy, and told him, “The next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’”  That’s what Samuel did, and God spoke to him, the first of many times they spoke together. 

          I’ve always loved that.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  That’s what I want to do when God asks, “Where are you?”  I want to say, “I’m right here, Lord; let’s talk.” 

          What’s your answer when God asks, “Where are you?”  Adam said, “I’m hiding…and here’s why.”

 

4. The reason: I’m afraid.

          “I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid.”  Adam hid because he was afraid; he was afraid because he was naked and didn’t want to face God. 

ILL: I have a recurring nightmare that I’m somewhere in public naked and can’t hide.  I always wake up in a cold sweat.  Anyone else have the naked nightmare?

As I mentioned earlier, prior to his disobedience, Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame when they were with each other or with God.  Now, after disobeying, Adam feels shame for the first time.  He’s afraid because he is ashamed and guilty.  That’s why he’s hiding.  His sin is keeping him from God. 

          I’ve seen this happen so many times. 

ILL: I’m thinking of a dear friend who loved Jesus, then went into hiding.  She was doing so well, then she started sleeping with her boyfriend.  I could tell you almost to the day when she started doing that—it was the same time she stopped coming to church and began avoiding me and other Christians who were close to her.  Just like Adam and Eve, she started hiding right after she disobeyed.  Why?   She felt guilty, ashamed, afraid.

          The good news is that the Questioning God never gave up on her; He kept looking for her, asking her, “Where are you?” until finally she came out of hiding and back into relationship.  But she had to answer God’s question; she had to own up.

Why do we hide?  We’re afraid.  We’re struggling.  We’re guilty.  We’re ashamed.  But God keeps after us, because He wants a relationship with us.  Jesus came and paid for our sins and opened the way back to God.  He took your guilt and shame on Himself so you can come out of hiding and come home to God.  But you have to answer the question too.  You have to own up.  This is repentance.  Please don’t think that repentance only happens once at conversion.  “I repented for my sins, now I’m done repenting.”  That would be great if you were done sinning.  Unfortunately, all of us sin even after we begin a relationship with God.  I am close to God, then I wander.  I am in relationship with God, then I go into hiding.  I do really well, and then I blow it and head for the trees.  I have discovered that I need continual conversion!  Repentance isn’t a one-time event for me; it’s a lifestyle.  I wander, so I am constantly turning back to God. 

          The questioning God comes to me often.  “Where are you?” He asks.  I can’t brush off His question.  I have to face it honestly.  He wants a relationship with me. 

          He’s asking you, too: “Where are you?”  I want you to sit with that question for a moment right now.  Let’s just be still.  Let God ask you, “Where are you?”