Have you ever had one of those experiences where you read a particular section of a book or hear a life changing sermon, and you remember right where you were when you heard it?
I’m blogging everyday this week on the major themes of my just released book 10:10: Life to the Fullest. Another major theme of the book is “Faith and Spiritual Intimacy,” and I can clearly recall a particular Bible study that left an indelible mark on me around this theme.
Our church was hosting Dr. Paul DeNeui, a professor at North Park University, to lead a series of Bible studies on whatever topic he felt most compelled to share on. As he prepared to dive into his first lesson, he drew us in with an enticing introduction:
“We are about to look at the important question in the whole Bible.”
Wow, how about that for an attention grabber?
Now I’m sure we could debate whether this is actually the most important question, but that wasn’t really the point. He wanted us to see the gravity of both this question and the account that it was placed in. Here is what he suggested is the most important question in the whole Bible:
“Where are you?”
That 3-worded question is found in Genesis 3.9, in the middle of the account of the Garden of Eden. Up until this moment, we see that Adam and Eve had experienced an unbelievably intimate relationship with God. God knew them and they knew God. They would literally “walk” with God in the Garden each day. It’s a really compelling picture.
But now Adam and Eve have sinned. God had previously told them they were able to delight in everything they desired within the Garden, as long as they avoided the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.17). Of course, they couldn’t help themselves, and they ate off of the one forbidden tree in the whole Garden.
The guilt and shame were overwhelming, and they weren’t sure how to respond. The presence of God used to be something they craved, but now they suddenly feared it. As they heard God approaching, they decided to hide in the bushes. They knew that God saw and knew all, so it obviously wasn’t a very effective strategy. But in the moment, it felt better than the alternative.
So here comes God the Creator. God knows right where they are, and what they have done, and why they are hiding. God doesn’t need the information. And yet still, God asks the question:
“Where are you?”
If God already knew where they were, and what they had done, and why they were hiding, then why bother asking the question?
The answer to that is what makes this the most important question in the Bible (according to the good professor).
The reasoning for God to ask “Where are you?” is not for God’s sake – it is for their sake.
It is an invitation. It is a declaration. It is God letting them know that God is there, waiting to receive them back into relationship. It is God clarifying that it is Adam and Eve choosing to hide, not God.
I so, so love that. It gives me the chills (in a good way) even as I write that. I lived too much of my life under the false assumption that the holiness of God meant that God was always angry with me, waiting to punish me for my very long list of sins.
I’m not suggesting that God isn’t holy, or doesn’t want us to stop sinning. It is clear in Scripture that God longs for our hearts to be soft in remorse before him, to be receptive to His leadings, and ultimately to be fully His.
But the point of this interaction in the Garden isn’t to show how or what God wants us to be. It’s about how and what He is! God is there, even when we have gone rogue. God is available, even when we are not. God is waiting in faithfulness, even when we are scurrying away into the dark corners of our souls.
That is why this question is so important. That is why it indeed may be the most important question in the Bible.
“Where are you?”
Though our actions may affect how close or how distant we feel, we can always be sure of one thing – the response of God is always the same. No matter what depths of darkness we have clung to, or to what height of personal glory we have tried to attain for ourselves, God is there. God is calling to us. God is waiting faithfully for us… always. It doesn’t matter if we are having a good day or a bad day. Tenderly, relentlessly, God continues to come after us.