April 23, 2007

€œDear God: after the Beep, Please Leave a Message€?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

The story of the Fall in the Bible, includes this dramatic encounter:
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ â€? (Genesis 3:7-10)
Adam and Eve were new at this business of being human, but they very quickly developed on their skill of hiding. First they tried to hide their nakedness under fig leaves, then they tried to hide their whole bodies among the trees of the Garden.

All they had to work with were some large leaves and a grove of trees. We have homes, cars, workplaces, malls, streets parks, libraries, etc., etc. And we can really hide when we don’t want to be found.

Of course, we have devised many technological devices to help us find each other. Each year, more sophisticated gadgets are available. The potential exists for each of us to know exactly how to locate one another at any given moment.

But our instinct to hide is so great that we find ways to play electronic tricks on our electronic devices so we can remain elusive. It began with the telephone. Telephone books and directory assistance made us more findable than we wanted to be, so we invented unlisted numbers. Cell phones are even more intrusive, so we created switches to turn them off. E-mails can chase us to wherever we turn on a computer, but we can choose not to check the messages if we don’t want to be bothered. GPS (Global Positioning System) devices can pinpoint our whereabouts, even without our knowing it. I’m not sure whether the technology has been developed yet to scramble signals and confuse GPS receivers. If not, I’m sure it’s on the drawing board. Our desire to hide is greater than the most sophisticated finding devices.

But our desire to hide is not as great as God’s determination to find us. That’s the lesson we should learn from Adam and Eve. The Lord’s call penetrated through the trees of the Garden, “Where are you?â€? Exposed, Adam and Eve trembled with fear.

God said: “Naked? Let me take care of that.â€? And he made them animal-skin clothes. “Vulnerable and afraid? I will hide you. Hiding from me will never work anyway.â€?

In a classic poem, Francis Thompson (1859-1907) pictures God as “The Hound of Heavenâ€? chasing his quarry, the frightened creature trying desperately to hide from him:
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the must of tears
I hid from Him ….â€?

He tells about how God pursues his terrified rebel child, as a hound chases after a rabbit. Trying every avenue of escape, the runaway finds no place to hide. The poem repeats this line twice:
“Fear wist [knew] not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.â€?
That is, with all our attempts to hide, God will always find us. He knows all the hiding places. He’s played hide-and-seek with thousands of generations of scared rabbits since Adam and Eve.

What makes us think that we will be able to hide from God? What makes us imagine that we can take a little time off from him and do our own thing, without his noticing? Why do we fumble for the off switch on our spiritual cell phone, thinking he will get the message that we don’t want to be bothered right now?